University of Wyoming fullback Skyler Miller and teammates celebrate after defeating Georgia State 38-17 during the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 31, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz. Associated Press

LARAMIE — It turns out football will be played at War Memorial Stadium, after all. It’s just coming 49 days later than expected.

In a stunning 180-degree turn from the announcement that shook University of Wyoming fans to their core, the Mountain West announced Thursday night that it will play an eight-game football season this fall starting the weekend of Oct. 24. The Mountain West Championship will take place Dec. 19.

After having seemingly lost everything, the Cowboys, coming off an 8-5 2019 season and among the top contenders to win the Mountain West in 2020, find their hopes and dreams once again within reach.

The decision to initially postpone the season and the subsequent decision to bring it back was made by the university’s presidents, who met Thursday.

On Aug. 10, just days after the Mid-American Conference (MAC) became the first FBS conference to suspend its fall athletics slate, the Mountain West announced that it was postponing all of its fall sports indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with aims of playing those sports in spring 2021.

Like many leagues, the Mountain West initially released a revised eight-game conference football schedule for each team (with up to two nonconference games as well) that would have started on Sept. 26, an attempt to provide more flexibility for teams. Just five days after that announcement, the season was postponed entirely.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences soon followed suit, creating what appeared to be an alliance of teams with their eyes on football in early 2021.

But the Big Ten shocked many by reversing course on Sept. 16 with an announcement of an eight-game schedule beginning in late October. The change of heart came due in no large part to advances in rapid COVID-19 testing that have occurred in the last month. Big Ten athletes and staff will be tested every day, and if a team has a positivity rate of 5% or there is a 7.5% positivity rate among a campus population, practice and games will be suspended for at least a week.

The Big Ten’s sharp turn then forced the Pac-12’s hand. The conference’s schools, having already secured rapid testing set to be distributed at the end of September, began discussing its own fall sports plan and reaching out to the proper government entities to gain practice clearance.

During a Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday, UW athletics director Tom Burman said that same sort of rapid testing technology “may be available” for the Mountain West in the near future, and that it was a key in any hopes to the Pokes taking the field this fall.

“Testing is the issue for returning to play, and it has to be rapid, frequent testing,” Burman said.

Later that same afternoon, UW President Ed Seidel released a statement showing optimism for a return of athletics, saying the school was “doing everything we can make to make it happen.”

On Friday, the Mountain West announced it had partnered with Quest Diagnostics for rapid testing that will be administered to players and staff three times per week. The results of the tests must be recorded prior to game day. 

Fan capacity at games will be determined by each university based on local health and safety regulations, the conference said.

Specifics on schedules and interruption of competition protocol will be released by the conference at a later date.

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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