LARAMIE – Count University of Wyoming athletics director Tom Burman among those confident there will be football at War Memorial Stadium this fall.
In an exclusive interview with WyoSports, Burman said, as of right now, he expects the Cowboys to have a football season and that student-athletes will return to campus in waves starting June 1. The first wave will have 75 student-athletes, Burman said, and they will be immediately tested for COVID-19 and then quarantined for two weeks. All student-athletes would be on-campus by the middle of August.
Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday the NCAA Division I Council approved voluntary football and basketball activities on campuses from June 1-30.
“If you’re asking me today, my answer is yes (there will be a football season for UW),” Burman told WyoSports.
The NCAA and Mountain West Conference shut down all sports and related activities, including the spring seasons and the NCAA basketball tournaments, in mid-March amid the surge in positive coronavirus diagnosises. Students at UW switched to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester, and graduation was held virtually. Student-athletes have been working out remotely and have had video calls with coaches.
Last week, the California State University system announced it would be switching mainly to online classes in the fall. There are three schools from that system in the MW: Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State. MW commissioner Craig Thompson previously said in April there would not be a college football season, “unless they’re in full mode with dormitories and housing and all the other facilities opening.” In a joint statement last Tuesday with the three aforementioned university presidents, Thompson said that, “no decisions on athletics have been made.”
Burman said there have been discussions about the potential of teams from certain states not playing this season, but that the MW would still attempt to make a season work. In a perfect world, UW would have six weeks or so of intensive training and practice before starting its season but that could “possibly” be done with less, according to Burman.
“The plan from my perspective is that the Mountain West is going to have a football season, whether it’s 12 teams, eight teams, (or) six teams,” Burman said.
The key to making sure the season goes on-schedule is testing, Burman said, which will hopefully be more readily available come August. Everyone involved with games would need to be tested, Burman said, including officials.
The frequency of administered tests is still up in the air and depends on several factors, though Burman imagines those involved with the game would need them 24-48 hours prior to kickoff. Each school, not the MW, will be responsible for administering tests. UW has been in contact with local private laboratories about potentially getting tests, assuming there are a sufficient number statewide.
“I would say a lot of it depends on the access,” Burman said “We’re working toward a structure where we would test (players and coaches) intermittently.”
One caveat that has been widely discussed in sports, particularly professionally, is potentially playing without fans in stadiums or arenas. University of Miami president Julio Frenk told CNN in an interview he expects college football but, “they will probably play in empty stadiums, like so many other sports,” due to safety concerns.
The possibility of that happening at UW is slim and not feasible, Burman said, as without fans, the finances don’t make sense. While there likely won’t be a full War Memorial Stadium this fall (maximum capacity is 29,181), he’s hopeful games could have 10,000-12,000 fans following social distancing guidelines, with the potential for more fans as the season goes on depending on the pandemic and the severity within the state itself. Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith echoed similar sentiments in a conference call Wednesday, saying he hoped that the Buckeyes’ stadium (102,780 capacity) could hold 20,000 or so fans this fall, per CBS Sports.
There currently are 583 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wyoming, which has resulted in 10 deaths.
Last season, UW made more than $2.7 million in revenue from football ticket sales and an additional $182,214 off of program, novelty, parking and concession sales, per the school’s online report. Including the $12.5 million or so in revenue from football, UW’s athletic department ended up at a deficit of about $1.1 million in 2019, which is commonplace among non-Power Five programs due to scholarships, coaching salaries and operating costs.
“It can’t be nothing at Wyoming … there isn’t enough TV money at Wyoming,” Burman said. “We are hopeful that we can get in that 30% (capacity) range.”
Travel this fall will likely look different as well, with a “leaner” party for road trips with only essential staff boarding the plane. If there were to be a COVID-19 outbreak at a specific road destination, there is a chance that game would not be played at all, Burman said.
“We’re going to watch it closely and make decisions as we go … if we can be safe we need to have this season,” Burman said. “At the end of the day, every decision will be made about the young people and coaches.”