MORGANTOWN – Is it wishful thinking to believe that come fall, West Virginia will play its football schedule on time and get in a full season or is it merely a flight of fancy?
That is the pressing question that comes out of the discouraging, disheartening news that the Mountaineer athletic department is cutting coaches' salaries and furloughing 65 employees for at least 60 days and possibly longer.
While Athletic Director Shane Lyons continues to express that he is “optimistic we will have a football season this fall,” as he spoke during a half-hour long ZOOM video call with the state’s media on Friday, it became clear that he really was more of a wish than a certainty.
Rest assured WVU and the Big 12 will do all it can to salvage from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic its football season, for that is the cash cow — or, perhaps, as they would put it in Texas, the cash Longhorn.
But if you listened closely you noted that there is far more uncertain than certain, both as to whether they can start on time, have a full season, a split season or any season at all.
At one point, speaking of WVU’s fiscal situation, Lyons admitted, “It’s impossible to project what the next few months will bring.”
Considering that football reigns as king in the collegiate athletic world, that translates into saying it is impossible to project what football will look like when it returns, if it returns, because that will dictate the finances of all Big 12 schools and all Power 5 schools.
Why should we worry about it while Lyons remains optimistic that WVU will be able to start on time, which would be playing Florida State on Sept. 5 in Atlanta?
The main reason is because he — nor anyone else — has a clue as what this summer will bring in terms of the pandemic and the restrictions it will force upon us all.
Conversations at the conference level and on the NCAA’s oversight committee, which Lyons chairs, are going on continually, trying to make plans to cover any contingency.
“We are looking at having the athletes back on campus four to six weeks before the first competition and able to train,” Lyons said. “The next step then is what does the season look like? We are all moving forward at this point and every day there’s new information and data and we’re asking, do we need to make adjustments?
“Will we start on time? We’re focusing on starting on Sept. 5 but we would not do ourselves justice without focusing on other contingency plans and looking at an altered season, maybe conference games only, will you have an interrupted season where you play half in the fall and if the virus kicks back up finish in the spring.
“All I can tell you is, as an oversight committee, we meet on a weekly basis and the conference is talking two and three times a week and we’re talking to our presidents on a weekly basis,” Lyons said. “There’s a lot of moving parts right now but frankly, there’s no answers. It’s not just a matter of flipping the switch.”
This is a national dilemma and there are differences across the country. The pandemic is reaching its worst at different times in different states and states are reacting differently toward it. Right now they are trying to open up the economy but will that cause a flare up in the spread of the virus again?
No one knows, much as no one knows if it will go away in the summer and come roaring back in the fall, which would be devastating to try to conduct not only a football season but to the American way of life as we know it.
“There’s a question that keeps coming up — does everyone have to be back to play football,” Lyons asked rhetorically. “There’s a lot of states that are going to reopen at different times. What does that mean? What does that look like? You might have situations where some institutions won’t be open in the fall because of their state regulations. What does that look like?
“We don’t have the answers to those questions yet and I think it’s a little bit too premature to say whether we are going to play football or not. As time goes on and it gets closer we’ll have more intelligence to tell us from the medical experts and scientists here’s what you need to do to play football.”
Until then we all are stumbling around in the dark, knowing where we want to go but not knowing how to get there. We can’t dictate the virus yet, so it will dictate to us.
We can only prepare for the worst, hope for the best and the answer, more than likely, will be somewhere in the middle.
— Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel