Some C-USA schools change plans, leaving questions for WKU football

WKU junior defensive lineman Deangelo Malone (10) celebrates making a stop during the game against MTSU in L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Conference USA has yet to announce the fate of fall sports, but one of WKU’s opponents announced Monday it would postpone its season.

Old Dominion University, which was slated to be WKU’s homecoming opponent, preceded C-USA and 13 other other members in postponing its season.

In a press release, ODU President John R. Broderick said travel and competition posed “too great a risk” to student athletes.

Rice University also announced Monday the football program would delay the start of the fall season until Sept. 26. 

Now the fans of WKU sports will await a ruling from C-USA to determine if games will be played on the Hill this semester. C-USA provided an update Wednesday in regard to athletic directors meeting with medical experts, but no official decision was made. 

Brett McMurphy, college football insider at Stadium Network, said on Twitter that athletic directors met and are “holding firm to playing in the fall” despite ODU cancelling the fall season. 

The Big Ten and Pac-12 also postponed their seasons with the hopes of playing in the spring. Meanwhile, the Big 12 decided to continue along with fall sports, adopting a 10-game schedule with Sept. 26 being the start of conference play. 

Since the WKU football program began workouts on June 8, Athletics has seen push back to the season opener: one confirmed COVID-19 case from women’s soccer, an asymptomatic staff member, fall camp delayed for football, and soccer pausing activity for two weeks on July 31.

No players have been reported to opt-out of fall sports at WKU. The NCAA put out a mandate Aug. 5 which states that each division must determine no later than Aug. 21 the eligibility accommodations that must be made for student athletes who opt out of participating this fall. The original date was Aug. 14 for student athletes to decide on participation. 

According to the NCAA’s mandate, student athletes’ scholarships will be honored by the college or university if that player chooses not to participate. Student athletes will also receive an extension of their five-year period of eligibility and an additional season of competition if they participate in 50% or less of the maximum number of competitions allowed in each sport by Division I rules.

Over the course of COVID-19 taking affect on WKU athletics, the Herald has asked about information for individual and positive cases within all sports programs. Athletics declined on different occasions to disclose any information involving athletes and their health. 

No decision has been made yet on if fans will be allowed in WKU’s facilities to watch home games this fall. Guiding partners with WKU will consult with athletics on the final plan and how fans can watch the Hilltoppers play in person. 

“We’re creating several different contingencies right now based on various limitations so that we can be best prepared once we know how we will be required to operate,” WKU Athletics spokesperson Zach Greenwell said. 

The start of fall camp for the football program is still yet to be decided, along with the finalized schedule for the 2020 campaign. Players will still be partaking in voluntary workouts until a plan is in place. 

Greenwell mentioned that the Sept. 3 opener was among one of the earliest in the nation as far as college football goes.

“Gives us more time to see what successes and challenges our peers face before putting all of our actions into action,” he said.

WKU’s coronavirus dashboard shows the amount of positive cases among students and faculty. When asked how many cases were reported within athletics, Greenwell said these will be included in the dashboard but not released separately.

Thoughts from the student-athletes:

While the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences have recently decided to cancel their 2020 fall football seasons, Group of Five conferences, the West Coast Conference, the Mid American Conference, and Mountain West Conference have canceled as well.

While many Power Five Conference players have taken to Twitter to express their thoughts, several WKU Football players have also publicly shared their opinions on the fall season.

WKU’s senior offensive lineman Tyler Witt said on Twitter other conferences have different landscapes.

“Higher COA, better chances at going pro, and more money to spend on safety measures for them,” Witt wrote. “We don’t have those luxuries.”

WKU’s junior defensive end Juwan Jones made reference to the financial aspect of college football.

“Let’s be real right now…..If there wasn’t money on the line with playing College Football, this discussion about whether or not we should be playing in a pandemic wouldn’t even be happening,” Jones tweeted.

Other WKU players have accepted the circumstances and praised how the pandemic is being handled on campus.

“All of the workout facilities are constantly getting cleaned after every workout, all players and staff wear masks in the weight room, and there is social distancing in on-field workouts,” freshman offensive lineman Mark Goode said.

FBS college football players have also taken to Twitter with the argument that social distancing and protocols on campus will be much safer than in their respective communities.

Frequent testing and social distancing is more likely at on-campus athletic facilities. Some players have said the precautions are working and they feel safe in the environment.

“Personally, I feel safe on campus,” freshman wide receiver Malachi Corley said. “As long as everyone wears their masks I don’t see a reason to worry.”

Goode said his teammates want to have a season, so they’re holding each other accountable to follow safety protocols.

“We can get agitated sometimes by the protocols, but at the end of the day we know it is necessary in order to have a season, so we continue to abide by those rules,” Goode said. 

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.

Football beat reporter Casey Warner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thecaseywarner.