Add one, lose one.
Only two days after finally signing on to add a game at Navy to the 2020 season, the BYU football team found out Saturday that it would be losing another scheduled contest.
That was because the Mid-American Conference, including Cougar opponent Northern Illinois, announced it would be postponing all fall sports until the spring.
“The Mid-American Conference (MAC) has announced the postponement of all scheduled fall contests, as well as MAC championships, due to continuing concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the conference said in a statement. “The Council of Presidents unanimously voted to take this action with the health and safety of its student-athletes, coaches and communities as its top priority. It is the intention of the membership to provide competitive opportunities for the student-athletes in these sports during the spring semester of 2021.”
There are numerous unanswered questions about the short-term and long-term impacts of the decision, including how the MAC universities will handle scholarships, how will postponement impact traditional winter and spring sports, and — perhaps most importantly — what will be the domino effect to other schools and conferences.
“The decision is grounded in the core values of the Conference that prioritize student-athlete well-being, an area the MAC has traditionally taken a leadership role,” MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said in the statement. “Clearly, we are charting a conservative path – and it is one that has been recommended by our medical advisory group. It is a decision that affects roughly 2,500 student-athletes who live for the moment to compete. Those opportunities and moments are fleeting, and our student-athletes have a limited window in which to showcase their talent, passion, and drive for excellence. I am heartbroken we are in this place. However, I take comfort and want to give assurance to our student-athletes, coaches, and fans that we have their best interest at heart, and we will make every effort to provide competitive opportunities in the spring.”
The reality that immediately impacts BYU is that the Cougars won’t be playing at Northern Illinois on Oct. 24.
It is the seventh scheduled game that BYU has had canceled in the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When a number of conferences elected to play conference-only football schedules, the Cougars were forced to remove games against Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford from its slate.
The opponents BYU currently has scheduled are at Navy (Sept. 7), Utah State (Oct. 2), Houston (Oct. 16), at Boise State (Nov. 6), San Diego State (Nov. 14) and North Alabama (Nov. 21).
While the MAC decision may the boldest and most devastating move in college football to this point, the harsh reality of the global pandemic is the health and safety concerns are on everyone’s minds.
While BYU players and coaches expressed confidence that the university is taking all possible precautions to keep them safe from the virus, they also have indirectly felt the impact of COVID-19.
“For awhile, all of us were in that position where we heard about it but we didn’t know anyone who was directly impacted by it,” Cougar offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said during a media teleconference on Friday. “That first person that you know who really had to go through it, it hits you and now it feels real. One of those moments for me was a good friend of mine who is a coach. I was checking in with him and he said he had it, that it was one of the most difficult things he had gone through. I thought to myself that we really do need to be careful. All of us, whether a player or a coach, recognize the importance of just doing what we can to give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy.”
BYU junior running back Lopini Katoa said he has also seen the disease take its toll on others.
“I’ve had no family members who have had it to this point, so we’ve been blessed with that,” Katoa said. “But I have friends who have been, although not anyone I’ve been spending a lot of time with. I feel like I’ve been super-fortunate so far. I’ve had friends affected and it doesn’t seem like it is pleasant in some cases, so I’m doing all I can to be careful.”
The realities of a dangerous health situation like a pandemic make finding the right balance between safety and progress difficult. It’s a question all players, coaches, administrators, conferences and the NCAA are asking daily as they seek solutions during a time when changes can happen very quickly.