By Michael Kinney
For the past month, everything that has come out of the University of Oklahoma athletic department has been positive. No matter what has taken place in other parts of the country or even other conferences, the Sooners have been putting out the vibe that their will be a 2020 football season. That included starting training camp July 31.
However, cracks in that wall started to appear last week when OU’s non-conference schedule started to disappear. For various reasons, Tennessee, Army and Missouri State all had their game with Oklahoma canceled.
This caused Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley to do something he has never had to do since coming to OU. He announced late Saturday night that he is pausing training camp for a week due to the schedule changes.
“We decided it’s best to give our players some time off,” Riley said. “We were able to start camp before the vast majority of teams because our Aug. 29 season-opening game date was the earliest in the country. With that first game pushed back a week or two, it only makes sense to spread out our practices and give our guys some time away. They’ve done a great job so far.”
With classes not starting until later this month, Riley is allowing his players to go home for a few days if they can. Others will have to wait around Norman with a few days off.
Just in the past month, OU has watched its schedule take some drastic changes. That included moving its home opener to Aug. 29against the Missouri State out of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Early last week the Big 12 announced it would join the rest of the Power 5 Conferences and change up its schedule. The Big 12 Board of Directors curtailed all teams to nine conference games and one home non-conference game. THe revamped schedule is expected to be released this week.
However, Oklahoma’s zero week changed regardless. So after only five practices, Riley put a halt to camp as the details of the Sooner’s season are crystalized.
Oklahoma will first and foremost have to decide who to make its non-conference game against. Missouri State is still a possibility, but the MVC has already canceled its conference season.
It’s possible for Army to make a return trip to Norman instead of OU heading to New York. But that seems unlikely as well.
There has been rumored talks of four teams out of the Big 10 (Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State) joining forces with the Big 12 for one season so they can get in a full schedule of games. But none of that has been validated yet by the schools or conferences.
For fans, the worst option is a total cancelation of the season. While Riley didn’t come out and state this was possible, he did say all options are on the table.
“We’re also mindful of all the conversations across the country concerning the 2020 season,” Riley said. “The added benefit of temporarily breaking from training camp is that it gives us a few more days to monitor those talks.”
The decision may be taken out of the Sooner’s hands. The commissioners from the Power 5 conference met for an hour Sunday. The representatives of the Big 12, SEC, Big 10, Pac019 and ACC have met once a week virtually since March.
However, this week’s meeting took place after a report came out saying their was too much unknown on the affects of COVID-19 on hearts that has worried some of the conference’s medical experts in the Big 10 and Pac-10.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decision has been made. But the prevailing thought outside of their room is that football and the rest of the fall college sports will be pushed into the spring of 2021.
“I don’t have anything other than our experts’ opinions to draw upon,” Bowlsby told the American-Statesman Sunday. “Have we made progress? Probably not. Have they told us to shut it all down? No, they have not. We’ve always felt a sense of urgency. But the last 30 days have not been a positive trend. There’s never been a drop-dead date. It’s always been situational. The virus decides what we do.”
However, a group of college football players took to social media during the weekend to let their voices be heard as well. Led by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the #WeWantToPlay hashtag went viral.
“I don’t know about y’all, but we want to play,” Lawrence posted on his social media account. “Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game all of us love. Not divide and argue. There is a way forward.”
Player representatives of the Power 5 Conferences put together a list of objectives that need to be addressed so their can be college football in 2020. They include establishing universal mandated health and safety procedures to protect athletes from COVID-19, give the players an opportunity to opt out of the season and guarantee a player’s eligibility whether they play the season or not.
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler was one of the many players who joined in on the #WeWantToPlay movement and posted the list on his social media account.
“We need football, the country needs football. We understand the precautions we have to take every single day for this to happen and we are more than willing to do that,” Rattler said. “There’s been too much hard work put in to bring everything to a halt. #WeWantToPlay.”
OU players are scheduled to return to campus and undergo COVID-19 testing protocol on Friday, Aug. 14 before resuming preseason practice.
The Sooners underwent two rounds of COVID-19 testing this past week. The 205 combined player tests produced one positive result. That player, who is is under quarantine, is the first one to get a positive test since early July.
Story & photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media