Fresno State football will be taking the field on Oct. 24, leaving the team with just enough time to fit in a modified fall camp.
The situation begs the question: Do the Bulldogs have enough time to ramp up their efforts and get into game shape?
“I’ve had less time than this,” said Head Coach Kalen DeBoer Friday, calling back to his days as the head coach at the University of Sioux Falls.
Since Sioux Falls was an NAIA school, DeBoer only had two weeks of fall camp to go along with another week to prepare for the first opponent.
“You saw your guys some, and you had a program in place, but not everybody was able to attend the summer workouts,” DeBoer said. “Seen this before, and you know how to manage it. We’ll do a really good job. We’ve got a great staff that’s all over it and very sensitive to the subject as far as taking care of the guys’ bodies. We’ve already altered practice plans and reps, and we’ll have to continue to do so based on what we’re seeing.”
In a normal coronavirus-free season, players would normally be on campus in the summer for team workouts and meetings, and then fall camp in the Mountain West would be a 29-day period before the season starts.
Fresno State will have to make do with a slightly shorter period of time to be ready to go on Oct. 24. Even though Fresno State did not bring the student-athletes back to campus over the summer, DeBoer said the team made do with virtual connections.
“I give our guys so much credit,” DeBoer said. “I’m so proud of the work that they’ve put in individually on their own and finding a way. I guess that’s really been a big thing that they’ve done, is just finding a way to get things done instead of looking for excuses.”
Over to the financial side of the program, Fresno State will be facing arguably its toughest challenge ever. Fans will not be allowed in Bulldog Stadium due to state guidelines, meaning the athletic department will lose out on ticket sales.
Also – with the eight-game all-conference schedule – Fresno State will not have the opportunity to take advantage of lucrative nonconference games.
Without the previously scheduled nonconference games, Fresno State has lost out on a $600,000 paycheck from playing Colorado and a $1.3 million payout from heading into SEC country to face Texas A&M.
Even with the financial questions that the program will certainly have to face in the near future, Fresno State Athletic Director Terry Tumey made one thing clear: The university is focussed first and foremost about the health and safety of the students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Making money is probably the last thing that we’re considering as it relates to trying to have the safety and wellbeing of our student-athletes at the forefront,” Tumey said Friday. “I think we get into a little bit of a slippery slope when we constantly start looking at athletics and trying to figure out how to monetize them. That’s not something we as educators or we in the collegiate athletic landscape concentrate on. That is something that I think comes to us from outside.
“What our concentration’s going to be on is trying to make sure we have a safe environment for these student athletes to perform and go through the educational process. I feel that’s the most important piece of the puzzle for us, and we’ll be putting all of our efforts in that. We have a commitment to those students athletes for their safety and wellbeing and moving them forward and helping them do the thing that they love to do, which is [to] play their sport.”
A look at the Mountain West’s plan
On Friday, conference commissioner Craig Thompson said he expects all 12 teams in the Mountain West to play, although some details need to be worked out with local officials to work with the COVID-19 guidelines.
Even though he expects every team to play, Thompson doubts that every team will play all eight scheduled games, since there will be no bye weeks to potentially allow for cancelled games to be made up.
“We have eight games in eight weeks,” Thompson said. “I would fully anticipate that not all 12 institutions in the Mountain West will play eight games for various reasons, just based on what we’ve seen the first three weeks of this season.”
Thompson is referring to the several college football games across the nation that have already been postponed, rescheduled or cancelled because of an outbreak of positive coronavirus cases.
To monitor the situation in the Mountain West, all players, coaches and athletic trainers will undergo antigen testing three times a week. If those tests come back positive, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will be administered to confirm the result.
The Mountain West is partnering with Quest Diagnostics to administer the tests.
“By us doing it multiple times a week, we’re hedging our bets in our favor that we’ll catch a positive,” said Dr. Tony Islas, a sports medicine physician at the University of Nevada. “We’re confident that because the test is actually a very sensitive and very specific test, that we’ll probably be able to factor out those false negatives and false positives as well.”
The Mountain West is paying for all of the tests, which Thompson said will cost “well into the millions of dollars.”
After originally postponing the season to the spring on Aug. 10, the reversal picked up steam in just a few days to bring football back in the fall. Thompson credited the partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the antigen testing program as what kick-started the conference into action.
“I think it really goes back to the rapid antigen testing, and with Quest’s support and partnership, it really started to turn probably in the last couple days for us,” Thompson said. “And I think some of my peers have said that was really the game changer. That is gospel. That is what’s been the difference maker for us.”
Once the eight-week season finishes, the Mountain West Championship Game will be held on Dec. 19. As of now, the winners of the two divisions will play in the championship, although Thompson said the conference might take the top two teams regardless of division. The team with the highest winning percentage will host the game.
Thompson said he expects the conference to release the schedule in the “very near future.”
“Everything is unique this year, so we’re adjusting on the fly,” Thompson said.
Photo: Fresno State Athletics