Safety protocols take a front seat with UMass football returning this fall

Ryan Bamford and Walt Bell discuss what’s in store for the fall

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Joseph Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

With the announcement of the Massachusetts football team reversing its decision to postpone football until the spring this morning, there’s more to consider than typical X’s and O’s before the season starts.

“There’s two opponents,” Minutemen head coach Walt Bell said. “We got to do everything we can to be as physically ready and prepared [to win football games], but probably the even bigger opponent…We have to be smart and take care of ourselves. That’s probably the most important thing we can do right now.”

COVID-19 testing has been given out to every player and staff member twice weekly since they arrived on campus in July, meaning almost 2,000 tests have been given out to the football team alone, with only two tests coming back positive. This success in upholding protocols played a part in the decision to play in the fall.

UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford also realized that opportunities for finding opponents in the spring were “drying up.” That, in conjunction with promising results under the current COVID protocols proved reason enough as for the Minutemen to decide to play football this fall.

The team has only been taking part in on-field football drills about once a week to help negate the possible spread of COVID-19, and anticipates a need to get on the field more while still remaining compliant with the latest guidelines.

Bamford also mentioned that he expects UMass to play around three to five games, with six being the most he would envision could be scheduled. He gave Saturday, Oct. 17 as the earliest possible start date and said the season could go into “December if we need to.” This opens up the opportunity for a bi-weekly game schedule, an opportunity Bamford and Bell have discussed.

Bamford believes the team’s empty schedule and the low positive test rate from COVID testing will prove beneficial for scheduling opponents, as it makes them flexible for teams already with a schedule in place, as well as a team with a reputation for prioritizing safety.

With this is mind, something to consider is when exactly each game is going to be scheduled, as there isn’t a template to follow for scheduling games for this fall.

“These games could be added one a time, they could be added in bunches, they could be added with a two-month anticipated date to play, or they could be added a week in advance,” Bamford said. “This will remain a really fluid football schedule all the way through the middle of December.”

Other than scheduling, travel will be discussed between UMass officials and the coaching staff. Rules on how long individuals need to quarantine after leaving the state, where the Minutemen feel is a safe place to travel to and what living situations will look like all dictate the way UMass will be practicing and playing football this fall.

While there will be a fall season after all, it will look much different than years past. The schedule will be reduced by at least half, zero fans will be in attendance and a potential bi-weekly schedule to comply with travel rules will make UMass football in 2020 look different. In a year where everything is odd, this football season is sure to follow suit.