As much as BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake and his players and coaches love football, they also know that there is a time when it has to take a backseat because of other concerns.
They all knew that was possible — even likely — this fall because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, however, it has become a reality.
“Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to play the game against Army this weekend,” Sitake said during Monday’s press teleconference. “I want to express that I have a lot of confidence in our sports medicine department and our administration, in the decision-making process they go through.”
He explained that before flying to Navy, every member of the BYU traveling party had tested negative for COVID-19 but on the return the next round of tests revealed a small number of positive cases.
“Because of variables involved because of the travel, you can imagine all of the people we had to connect with,” Sitake said. “We got a lot of feedback from a lot of separate entities. After looking into it more, our administration and the sports medicine department decided that postponing the game would be the responsible thing to do.”
He is confident, however, that the contest will be rescheduled for later in the season, and that he will have his team ready for the home game against Troy on Sept. 26.
“We’ve tried to provide an environment so we can get the whole team back as soon as possible,” Sitake said. “We’re practicing in smaller groups this week and hoping that by next week we can get back to practicing together.”
One of the unexpected challenges, according to Sitake, has been that the majority of those who have tested positive have been asymptomatic.
“We test three times a week and when you test and get these positives, you have to respond accordingly,” Sitake said. “If the players want to play football, this is the deal. But we get to still play.”
He said that as tough as things have been, he feels like the Cougars were as prepared as they could be.
“I feel like we were really prepared,” Sitake said. “I don’t think there is any chance that you could look at recklessness being an issue here. We want to make sure we get this right. What complicates things the most is the travel. Had this been a home game, I think things might have been a little bit different.”
It’s not been easy on the players, who were anxious to get back out on the field after their big 55-3 season-opening win at Navy.
“Everyone was really excited to face Army and I think we still are,” Cougar offensive lineman James Empey said. “We have a lot of faith that game will get rescheduled and we’ll get to play those guys. In the moment, everyone was kind of bummed because we want to play that game. We’ve had to take it one day at a time. We’ve all been trying to follow the guidelines that have been given to us. We have faith in our administration and the sports medicine staff that is making sure we are safe and doing things the right way. We just want to do our best so we can keep playing football.”
The BYU football program has emphasized personal accountability to try to limit the risk of contracting the virus but as defensive back Troy Warner pointed out, there is no way to eliminate the risk entirely.
“When you get COVID-19, it’s a very unfortunate situation,” Warner said. “When you are doing all the right things and putting yourself in the best position possible to be clean and safe, at the end of the day you could still get it. That’s the tough part about this all.”
He said that he and the other Cougars are trying to be there for the teammates who did test positive.
“We want to pick them up when it is need,” Warner said. “That’s the biggest thing was can do at the end of the day.”