The new coronavirus has shut down the spring sports schedule, and now there are a growing number of pundits and coaches voicing concerns about whether the pandemic will affect the late summer and fall schedule as well.
Add Kentucky coach Mark Stoops to the list of those worried about the 2020 college football season.
“I am,” Stoops said on a teleconference with reporters Friday when asked if he is concerned about the season being canceled or postponed. “As you know, I also try to stay in my lane as best as possible. We’re going to continue to work and prepare to play that opening game. That’s where my mindset is.
“To say that it hasn’t crossed my mind or I don’t think about it, that’s a lie. You do. You have to block it out and continue to push and work to do the best you can to be prepared. That’s what I’m worried about: Getting the team ready.”
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who has a long friendship with Stoops, said on ESPN radio Thursday he would be “shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football.”
Stoops said he spoke with Herbstreit recently but mostly about personal matters as the two friends checked up on each other’s families. The fate of the fall football seasons will depend on how effective social distancing is in slowing the spread of COVID-19, which has ended almost all sporting events in the United States and Europe. The NCAA Tournament was canceled earlier this month. The Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Masters are among the major U.S. sporting events that have been postponed.For now, Stoops is focused on helping his players, who have all returned home after Kentucky announced the remainder of the semester would be completed online, focus on their academic work and find ways to safely train on their own with whatever equipment they might be able to access.
The financial effect on college sports is already becoming evident with the NCAA announcing Thursday it was cutting its payouts to schools by $375 million after losing revenue from not playing its basketball tournaments and other spring and summer championships. Canceling the football season would have even more drastic effects on athletics department budgets given the lost ticket revenue and television money from their respective conferences.
To that end, Stoops was asked if coaches had considered giving back parts of their salaries to help offset some of the lost revenue.
“It hasn’t been talked about out loud, but it certainly has crossed my mind,” Stoops said. “I think that’s a great question and a great point. Yes, absolutely. I’m prepared to give back. Chantel (Stoops) and I have been active in this community for a long time. It’s really important for us to give back right now, but it’s also important to give back to the university if need be.
“... I would be open to that personally, of giving back and helping this university and making sure we have the ability to put the resources into our players, which is most important to me. Continuing to develop our players in all areas of their life, that does take a strong financial commitment.”
Throughout the almost hourlong teleconference, Stoops multiple times noted many of the decisions about when and if sports resume would be made by administrators and public health officials with far more information about the pandemic than coaches.
With worries about the season are undoubtedly affecting his players too, Stoops and his coaching staff are working to keep the team as focused as possible.
“It’s much bigger than the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said. “We will do the things necessary and what we are told, but as of right now, we’re preparing to play.”