The thought of canceling fall sports, including football, has weighed heavily on University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez for weeks.
“I go to bed every night and my body just aches,” he said. “It hasn’t been fun. All along, I know how much they want to play, and enjoy playing. I watch them practice the last couple weeks, watching them on the field and watching the coaches and how they interact and how they enjoy it.
“I don’t feel good about it. I just feel a hollow feeling.”
The Big Ten Conference made its move Tuesday, saying fall sports wouldn’t be played and that the league will attempt to move those sports to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A spring football season has never been attempted in the Big Ten, and a host of questions need to be answered before teams can plan to play.
Alvarez said on a Zoom teleconference with reporters Tuesday that Big Ten athletic directors have discussed the parameters of a spring season very little, but those discussions will begin this week.
A spring season will be complicated and roster numbers will likely drop with upperclassmen choosing to prepare for the NFL draft instead of playing for their college team.
Players at UW and across the conference have shared two primary concerns on social media regarding a spring season — the wear-and-tear on their bodies if the conference intends to play in the spring and fall of 2021, and how a spring season would affect their eligibility.
UW senior safety Eric Burrell and junior cornerback Faion Hicks posted on Twitter their concerns of playing two seasons in a calendar year.
“Ain’t no way we play in the spring then turn around and play in the fall. Our bodies won’t last, stop getting people hopes up,” Hicks tweeted.
Burrell tweeted: “Let me take a wild guess ... hmmm they want us to play in the spring & fall.. I wonder why? I’m not the smartest man but they want that cash flow 2 for 1 special.”
Alvarez told reporters he’s had discussions with Badgers coach Paul Chryst about spring football, as Chryst was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football in the early 1990s. Chryst saw as players from that league would play a 10-game schedule in the spring and then catch on an NFL roster in the fall.
“(Chryst) said two full seasons back-to-back like that is too much. So, taking that into consideration, my natural thinking is six, eight games, something like that, if you do something this spring,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said any plan to play in the spring wouldn’t be a full season.
In a separate Zoom teleconference Tuesday, Chryst suggested that a spring schedule could look like NFL preseason games, but any decision on spring games needs to be tied to the structure of the fall season in 2021.
“The first thing you’ve got to answer is, ‘What do you want the fall to look like?’” Chryst said. “I think there’s some things you could do in the spring. You could do some games against other opponents, almost like preseason games in the NFL, play against teams you’ve never played against before and have great matchups.”
Concerns over eligibility have been a frequent topic of discussion between Chryst and his players, he said.
If Big Ten teams played six, seven, or eight games as Alvarez suggests might be possible, would that count as a full year of eligibility? Would football players face the same fate as seniors from spring sports, whose scholarships weren’t extended after their championships were canceled despite the NCAA allowing programs to do so?
Those questions need to be answered to give players clarity in order to make a decision regarding their careers. Alvarez said athletic directors are meeting tomorrow to begin those discussions, and Chryst said he’s been told the goal is to have those answers by the middle of August.
“You know what (players) don’t want to do? They don’t want to waste a year,” Chryst said. “If I’m a senior, is that how I want to spend my last season, knowing there’s no guarantees?”
Chryst said he’s talked with players in an attempt to define how many games would make up a worthwhile season in the spring.
Advancements in COVID-19 testing may help UW and other college programs return to full practices and games quicker. Alvarez said UW’s program has been taking a saliva test developed at UW in conjunction with PCR nasal swab tests. The saliva tests currently can process results in hours, but if the tests get more refined, that could drop to under an hour.
“We thought potentially that could be an answer for us (this fall). If we had a saliva test that we could get back within an hour, heck, we could have our guys do their test, go in and have breakfast and they’d have an answer before practice and we could guarantee a clean practice field,” Alvarez said. “It couldn’t move fast enough. But those are things we’re hoping can be rectified and we can have available come spring.”
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