The last few days have been a whirlwind for Utah State head football coach Gary Andersen, who had to inform his players Monday afternoon via Zoom that the Mountain West had postponed all of its fall sports seasons due to health concerns related to COVID-19.
This decision was made five days after the league released its revised plans for football and the other fall semester sports. The Mountain West is one of four conferences as of Wednesday night that have axed football this fall — the others being the Mid-American, Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences.
“Obviously it’s extremely disappointing for everybody involved, but most importantly the young men,” Andersen said in a Wednesday conference call.
And while it was a “disappointing” decision, it was one Andersen agreed with, calling it a “no-brainer” that they would not be playing football this fall.
Andersen didn’t specifically talk about positive tests on the team, but did say “many weeks in the last seven, eight, nine weeks that we’ve been going about this thing, we would have been at far from full strength as a football team and, at times, actually having a hard time putting a position group out on the field.”
A lot of this had to do with the challenges contact tracing presented.
“It’s not really the cases on the team, it’s just the tracking, right?” Andersen said. “And it gets very difficult as you go through to track the young men that are involved and the amount of days that they lose.”
USU was preparing to start fall camp on Monday, Aug. 24, when news of the postponement of the season broke. Andersen plans on talking to all of his players on an individual basis over the next few days. The former Ricks College and University of Utah player wanted to give them some time to process everything.
Because there is no fall camp, USU’s players will go home for the next two weeks and return to campus on Aug. 31, which is the first day of fall classes. The primary focus will be academics when they come back, and Andersen is going to “strongly encourage” his athletes to take a larger class load — a minimum of 15 credit hours — and a higher percentage of in-person classes.
“We need our student-athletes to get in front of a professor and get around other students and be a part of the general student population,” Andersen asserted. “I think it’s a huge part of just growing up and understanding life, and a huge part of college.”
As far as football is concerned, Andersen plans on implementing an offseason program approximately two weeks after schools starts. This would be “much like we would when we start in January, and those cycles are usually seven-to-eight weeks with our strength coaches,” he said. “That’s what we have (in place) today, and so that’s what we are going to go with.”
Like the MAC, Pac-12 and Big 10, the Mountain West is hopeful it will be able to play some sort of football season during the spring. The potential prospect of a spring season followed by a full slate of fall games is concerning to Andersen, particularly in regard to a lack of recovery time between seasons.
If the Aggies were to play games during the spring, they would surely miss out on spring camp for the second straight year. Andersen talked about the importance of spring camp in developmental programs such as Utah State.
“Spring ball is a time to develop, it’s a time for position changes, looking at kids in different spots,” Andersen said.
Should the season get canceled, Andersen knows he will have to make some tough decisions regarding seniors who want to come back.
“I worry about those kids the most because they’ve had (things) taken away from them,” he said. “Now, there’s no certain return (date), whether that be spring, whether that be next fall, how each conference, how each individual university deals with the ability to bring back seniors. Just because the NCAA said, ‘OK, you can have another senior year,’ that does not guarantee that you’re going to be given that opportunity.
“As we learned last spring when it happened with the spring sports, you’re not guaranteed the opportunity to go back to your university and be able to play your senior year,” Andersen said. “And if that’s the chance, every kid needs the opportunity and a timeline to be able to go out and have an opportunity to put themselves out there and possibly play for another university.”