Sooner’s coach says football in the spring is ‘very doable’

By Michael Kinney

With the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 college football season, coaches and administrators have been considering other options just in case.

One of the ideas that has been floated by the Ivy League is moving the upcoming football season ito the spring.

While many have panned the idea, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley gave it credence Friday during a virtual press conference with reporters.

“I think the people who say it’s not an option, in my opinion, just don’t want to think about it,” Riley said. “I just think it would be wrong of us to take any potential option off the table right now. I think it’d be very difficult to say the spring is not a potential option. I, for one, think it’s very doable.”

The plan could include a shortened schedule that would eliminate many of the long distance travel contests.

“It’d probably be a conference season and postseason only,” Riley said. “We’ve seen often teams go in and play well into January in the College Football Playoff and start spring practice at some point in February, and nobody says a word about that. You’d have to give players plenty of time off to get their bodies back in the summer. Maybe a little later start back the next fall.”

One of the reasons other options are being considered is due to the COVID-19 testing taking place during the summer voluntary workouts. In June teams such as Clemson and LSU made headlines with more than 30 athletes from each program testing positive for the disease. Others such as Boise State, Arizona, Kansas State and Houston had to pause workouts due to multiple positive tests.

On the same day Riley talked about playing football in the spring, another fellow Big 12 Conference member had to suspend activities due to COVID-19.

Out of 164 athletes tested at the University of Kansas, 16 came back with positive results. That includes 12 from the football team.

“When we welcomed our young men back to campus a couple of weeks ago for voluntary workouts, even with the policies and procedures in place to try and protect them from becoming infected with the virus, events outside of our control has made the decision to pause these workouts necessary,” Kansas coach Les Miles stated. “Our trainers and doctors will remain in daily contact with each of the student-athletes that tested positive to support them and what we hope will involve only minor symptoms if any. We will follow medical recommendations on returning to activities.”

Oklahoma didn’t allow student-athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts until July 1. In their first round of testing, they came back with seven football players who tested positive for COVID-19. That pushed their total positive numbers to 14 athletes (two recoveries) and two staff members.

“We’re kind of a microcosm of the whole country right now,” Riley said. “We certainly weren’t expecting zero. I don’t know if comfort is the right word, but I feel good about our plan.”

Even though Riley is still confident in the plan OU has put in place to control the spread of COVID-19, he knows it comes down to personal decisions.

“I don’t know that control is the right word,” Riley said. “To think that you can control is probably a little far-fetched, maybe a little arrogant. Our deal is trying to educate and trying to make sure that they understand repercussions for their actions and understanding that the definition of that has changed. Everything you do, you have to first think about, ‘Am I exposing myself? My family members? My teammates?’ which can potentially jeopardize all this.”

Yet, in saying all that, Riley still believes the 2020 season can still be played as scheduled. That includes the season opener Sept. 5 and the trip to New York to face Army Sept. 12.

“I hope like hell we can play in the fall and do it as close as how we’ve always done it before. If we can do that, I’m all for it, if that’s the best option,” Riley said. “But we’ve seen, at least right now, that the hot weather doesn’t affect this [virus] very much, which we kind of hoped it would.”

The Sooners announced Wednesday they have implemented budget cuts of approximately $13.7 million in controllable operating expenses. That includes a 10 percent salary reduction for any employee earning at least $1 million a year. 

That includes Riley and five other members of the OU football staff.

According to OU Athletic Director, Joe Castiglione, these cuts represent the department’s first steps in responding to the impact of COVID-19.

“All of us understand that a number of circumstances will unfold in the weeks ahead,” Castiglione said.  “Our staff continues to monitor our expense and income projections closely and we’ll take other actions, as necessary. It’s a testament to our staff and our practices that we were able to balance our budget for fiscal year 2020. We have always benefited from excellent teamwork in our department, but our staff has come together as never before. I am very proud of our people.”

Riley’s contract pays him $6 million a year. He says the 10 percent reduction was the right move to make.

“Joe stopped by the house and told me what he was thinking. It took me about two and a half seconds and I said, “I’m good with it” and that was it. We’re all having to adjust … we’ve all got to do our part and it’s changed things for all of us,” Riley said. “So, I didn’t see any reason why I should be any different. I mean, you can talk about all the money that this football program brings in, but you cannot put a dollar amount on the amount of exposure, the advertising, the branding work that (football) does for this University, for Norman and for the state. It’d be impossible. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. When Joe asked me, it didn’t feel like a big deal.”

Story by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

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