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Arizona Bowl defensive MVP Alijah Halliburton (3) and offensive MVP Xazavian Valladay (6) hoist their trophies on the stage after the Cowboys’ victory Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019 at the University of Arizona. The Wyoming Cowboys defeat the Georgia State Panthers 38-17 to win the Arizona Bowl. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

LARAMIE — Goodbye 2020 University of Wyoming football. We hardly knew you.

In a somewhat stunning move, the Mountain West Conference announced Monday that it is indefinitely postponing all of its fall sports. The move comes two days after the Mid-American Conference (MAC) postponed its season to the spring. The University of Connecticut and Old Dominion have announced they will not be playing this season, either. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are reportedly close to making the same decision as the Mountain West, per Dan Patrick, but it has not been officially announced yet.

The Mountain West is the second conference to officially nix all fall sports amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The status of winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, is still up in the air, the statement said. The Mountain West will examine the possibility of playing its season in the spring.

Stadium's Brett McMurphy broke the news Monday afternoon.

The other sports impacted by the decision are men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

“The decision by the Mountain West Board of Directors to suspend the fall seasons was focused on the health and well-being of our student-athletes. I know it is disappointing for all of us to not have fall sports this season. Most of all it is disappointing to our student-athletes who have been working so hard in preparation for their fall seasons,” UW athletic director Tom Burman said in a statement. “Now that the decision has been made, we need to continue to focus on doing everything we can to help our student-athletes maintain their health and to help them continue to stay focused on their academics. This will be a period of adjustment for our young men and women, and we want them to know that we are here to provide them the support they need to get through this time until they can return to competition.”

Wyoming was one of the few programs nationally to not record a positive COVID-19 test in its athletic department since student-athletes arrived back on campus in early June. It was not enough to salvage the season, however. The Cowboys were set to start fall camp on Tuesday. Practice will be postponed for the immediate future.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff and overall communities,” MW Board of Directors chair Dr. Mary Papazian said in a released statement. “Through the hard work of many over the past several months, the Conference made every effort to create an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete, and we empathize with the disappointment this creates for everyone associated with our programs. The best interests of our students and student-athletes remain our focus and we will persist in our efforts to forge a viable and responsible path forward.

“Since the start of the pandemic, our membership and staff have been working diligently to prepare for a fall sports season,” said MW Commissioner Craig Thompson. “We were hopeful we could carefully and responsibly conduct competition as originally scheduled with essential protocols in place. However, numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made this difficult decision necessary. I fully understand the impact of this outcome on our student- athletes, coaches, administrators and staff who work so hard daily to play the sports we all love, and I share in their disappointment. We will continue to navigate this pandemic together, overcome the obstacles and return to intercollegiate athletics at the earliest opportunity.”

UW had high hopes entering 2020, having ended the 2019 season with a bang. The Cowboys were victorious in a 38-17 Arizona Bowl victory over Georgia State on New Year’s Eve, the Pokes’ eighth win of the season. With starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys believed they had a legitimate chance to win the conference.

“Looking back at least year’s tape, seeing all the mistakes we made, it puts a chip on our shoulder, too,” redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams told WyoSports earlier this summer. “I would not be surprised. Don’t count the Cowboys out in any game, that’s for sure.”

Head coach Craig Bohl, normally one to play things close to the vest, expressed similar sentiment earlier in the summer. Following an eight-win campaign and tight losses to Boise State, Utah State, San Diego State and Air Force, the Cowboys entered the fall with a chip on their shoulder. This was potentially their chance to shine.

But before it ever got the chance to get started, that opportunity is gone.

“Some years, even if all those other things come to play, I couldn’t look the media guys in the eyes and say we have enough fire (power),” Bohl said. “I understand we’re on the outside looking in a little bit (in 2020), but we do have a shot.”

Coaches and players were not immediately available for comment Monday night. Players took to Twitter Monday afternoon upon hearing the news.

“Saying because of safety concerns for players is a cop out. There are [sic] many universities that put their players in a beyond safe environment for us to play football this fall,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Chambers wrote. “UWYO has done everything right since June 1st and to receive news like this is a major blow to us.”

Chambers continued in another tweet.

“It starts from the top with the NCAA. If there was any semblance of leadership we wouldn’t be in this mess. No direction or leadership lead us to a decision like this. Now us athletes have to reap the consequences that we don’t deserve.”

Redshirt freshman receiver Isaiah Neyor shared his thoughts as well.

“All that hard work and not getting a chance to showcase our skills,” Neyor wrote. “Worse news I’ve received ever.”

Williams shared a hint of optimism amid the cloudy circumstances.

“Regardless (of) the path... We move forward,” Williams, who started in the Georgia Bowl for the Cowboys, posted.

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.

(1) comment

clipper

UW should play. Never mind the MW. Call Scott Frost at Nebraska. He's looking for opponments. Big12 hasn't cancelled yet, games with KSU, Kansas and TTU a possibility. Air Force might still be willing to play. Don't lay down and accept this or you're going to lose players to transfer, coaches to other schools, student enrollment and donations.

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