MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — As speculation swirls around regarding the future of the 2020 college football season, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons continues to hold out hope that the campaign will proceed as scheduled.
“I’m moving forward and being the optimist. I’m gonna say we’re playing football in August,” Lyons said in a Wednesday video conference. “Until another month or so rolls around and the medical experts say ‘That’s not going to happen,’ then I’ll start making adjustments.
“I’ve always said my whole life the world’s about adapt and adjust. That’s what I’m doing every day. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here and start planning something on hypotheticals. I could throw out and say ‘What if we’re not going to have a basketball season next year?’ It’s too far out to start that discussion.”
Lyons is not operating on blind faith.
“Right now, based on the medical experts and the information I’m receiving, come August, we’re going to be playing football. If a month from now I get different information, I’ll adapt and adjust and start looking at that.”
Dr. Clay Marsh, the dean of WVU’s School of Health Sciences and Gov. Jim Justice’s appointed coronavirus czar for West Virginia, is among those Lyons has leaned on for information.
“Our projections, based upon the medical experts, they feel once we get to late summer, the August area, normal life will hopefully be back all across the US. That’s kind of our hope,” Lyons said. “It’s my understanding from some recent phone calls in the last 48 hours that the pandemic will spike in the next 2-3 weeks.
“If we take what we learned from China, after the spike it was roughly three months that they started returning to normal. If you look at us, the spike would occur later this month and starts to flatten out and by late summer, we’re ready to play football.”
Last week, a story in Sports Business Journal floated the idea of playing an abbreviated season from July-September, before an anticipated rebound for COVID-19 in winter months. Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reports that at least a couple of presidents from Group of 5 schools have suggested moving the season to spring 2021. And ESPN’s face of college football, Kirk Herbstreit, said he would be “shocked” if there’s a college or NFL season in 2020.
“All this that you hear in the national media and people talking about there’s not going to be football season, I think it’s foolish to say that right now,” Lyons said. “What I’m being told from the medical experts, there’s a great possibility that we’re playing football. That’s what I’m going to focus on.
“If information comes in the next 15-30 days that’s different, that’s when we’ll start focusing on something else.”
To that end, Lyons said that Big 12 and other Power 5 athletic directors haven’t even discussed any alternative means of playing this year’s schedule.
“[Tuesday] was probably the first time we in the Big 12 even broached the subject of fall football,” Lyons said. “Our discussion has been about now, what do we do in real-time? Not to say August isn’t going to be important — it’s going to be very important — but real-time was what do we do with the athletes here now, what are we doing in spring, what are we doing with their workouts?
“All of that consumed our time in the past 2-3 weeks to come up with a pandemic policy. Now that we’ve got that, the next step is starting to talk about summer and football in the fall and how that falls into place.”
Even if the Mountaineers end up playing their full 12-game schedule, Lyons concedes there is a chance at least one element changes this fall.
“The question comes back to ‘What does society look like?'” Lyons said. “We’re not going to do anything that puts harm in the way of one our student-athletes or our fanbase as well.
“We’ll continue to get as much education as we can from medical experts to say what is a viable option for our teams. They may say you can have a team out there, but you don’t want 60,000 people showing up to football stadiums. That’s something we’ll have to work through.
“As athletic directors, how do we salvage the football season as we get through this? We’ll have to be very flexible in our approach. It’s hard in this pandemic. You can’t just say this thing goes away on July 1 and life will go back to normal. This is going to be with us for months and months to come. So what does that look like and what’s the advice of our medical experts, our government, of our states, of our campuses?
“There’s a lot of discussion that has to be had over the coming weeks.”
West Virginia is scheduled to open the season against Florida State at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 5.