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University of Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl, left, talks to cornerback Azizi Hearn during the first half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Logan, Utah. Eli Lucero/Logan Herald Journal

LARAMIE – The Mountain West announced Wednesday that its football members will play an eight-game conference schedule in 2020, and that teams will be able to play an additional two nonconference matchups, for a maximum of 10 games.

The season is now scheduled to kick off the week of Sept. 26.

The news comes as the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) have announced they will either play conference-only schedules or a minimal amount of nonconference games in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Wyoming was slated to play three nonconference games: its season opener Sept. 5 vs. Weber State, Sept. 12 at Louisiana and Sept. 26 at Ball State. A Sept. 19 home matchup with Utah was canceled last month when the Pac-12 announced it was moving to a 10-game, conference-only schedule.

Within the original schedule, the Cowboys would have opened their conference slate Oct. 10 at UNLV. The new schedule model will be announced at a later date. The Mountain West title game will be held Dec. 5, 12 or 19.

“I am excited we have a plan to move forward as a league,” UW athletics director Tom Burman said in a statement. “Our coaching staffs and student-athletes here at Wyoming have done an admirable job of staying safe and getting us to this point where we can move forward.

“But we must stay vigilant in the weeks ahead, so that we can continue in a positive direction. A key element to preventing greater spread in Wyoming and on our campus will be to wear our face coverings when near others. I want to thank everyone who has worked to keep our student-athletes and staff safe.”

The Mountain West also announced Wednesday that cross-country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball would have conference-only schedules this season, and that the conference championships in those sports would be based on regular-season standings. Those sports will also start the week of Sept. 26.

Fall seasons for men’s and women’s golf, swimming and diving, indoor track and field, baseball and softball have been canceled.

“The health and well-being of our students, student-athletes, coaches, staff and overall communities remain the first and foremost priority,” Mountain West board of directors chair Mary Papazian said. “An incredible amount of thought and discussion from multiple perspectives went into making this decision. The modified fall structure supports the measures being taken by each of our institutions to ensure responsible return to play.

“We will continue to gather the best medical information available and lean on advice from public health professionals, as well as state and local officials, as we make decisions and necessary adjustments in the future.”

The Mountain West’s plans for an attempted football season come on the same day the NCAA announced each division would make its own choice on whether to hold fall championships and that the decisions would be made no later than Aug. 21. Divisions II and III have already announced they will not hold fall championships.

In its news release, the NCAA also said if 50% of teams in a specific sport choose not to play this fall, there would be no NCAA championship for that particular division.

The NCAA also outlined advanced COVID-19 safety and return-to-sport protocols, guaranteed scholarships for players that choose to opt out of playing this fall due to the pandemic, and a hotline for student-athletes and family to report alleged negligence. All medical expenses relating to COVID-19 will be paid for by the school, rather than the student-athlete or his/her family.

“The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes,” NCAA board of governors chair Michael V. Drake said in the release. “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions, given the spread of COVID-19.”

Michael Katz covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at mkatz@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @michaellkatz.

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