Coaches’ emotions on edge as pandemic questions linger

Sport

Indiana coach Tom Allen was heartbroken. Kansas State’s Chris Klieman doesn’t know if he will be, too, eventually, but said he wants to keep his players on campus.

Across the country, the looming collapse of the college football season is beginning to hit home for coaches who have scrambled to pull a season together through a pandemic.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 became the first Power Five conferences to cancel their fall football seasons because of concerns about COVID-19. The Big Ten said it hopes to compete in the spring, and the Pac-12 pushed even basketball back to Jan. 1.

“My heart breaks for our players. I couldn’t be prouder of the commitment and focus they have demonstrated from the start of this pandemic,” Allen said of the Big Ten’s decision Tuesday.

“Our number one priority always has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of our players. While this is a difficult day, the decision is in the best interest of our players,” he said.

Shelly Meyer, a nurse and wife of retired college coach Urban Meyer, tweeted that with players losing their sport, “please make sure we have outlets/resources to help them cope w this loss. And yes, it IS loss, even if u think it’s `just a game.”‘

The announcements, which came about an hour apart, left the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 as the Power Five conferences still intending to play in the fall, and left Klieman clinging to hope.

“I hope they don’t totally lose a season,” he said of his players. “I hope they get a chance to do things in the spring, and that’s what we all want. What is the plan? What is the plan for each league, whether they play in the fall or play in the spring?”

It’s a question coaches still preparing their teams for a fall season have to be asking almost hourly at this point, especially as some schools prepare to welcome students back to campus, minimizing the protection players have had living in a so-called “bubble.”

For many, staying on campus is still their best bet.

“You don’t want to send them home because I really believe the environment we have at K-State is the safest environment we have for these guys,” Klieman said.

If the Big 12 also decides to cancel fall competition, that presents a whole new slew of questions to be answered, Klieman said.

“If it moves to the spring, what is the fall? Are we having a spring ball right now? Is this time we’re going to use with the guys?” he asked. “… Can we continue with workouts? Can we continue with walkthroughs? Everybody wants answers before they make a final decision.”

For Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, the decision has already been made, and the answers are still to come.

“Are we disappointed? Yeah. We want to play,” he said. “But we also know that it’s a unique time. Process it, and then it’s our choice. How do we want to move forward, and can we find a way to continue to get better?”