UMass football ready to ramp up for season after decision to play

Team reversed decision to cancel season on Sept. 21

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Parker Peters / Daily Collegian

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

On Aug. 11, the Massachusetts football team made the decision to cancel its season because of COVID-19 and scheduling concerns. Originally, the Minutemen had planned to move the fall season to the spring.

Under six weeks later, UMass has reversed course and is preparing to play starting in mid-October.

“Looking at the environment of college football right now at the FBS level and the opportunities to play games in the spring term, we’re at a point where we want to get all our guys reps and game action,” UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford said. “We felt like at the end of the day the fall period was our best chance to get some games played and get our guys some competitive opportunities.”

While the original plan was to play in the spring, the improving landscape of college football made it easier to schedule games this fall. No games have been scheduled yet, but Bamford insisted that several schools are interested in scheduling games against the Minutemen.

“Understanding the opportunities in the spring were starting to dry up, we had some hard conversations with different schools, athletic directors and head coaches,” Bamford said. “We just put our heads together and ultimately said this is the best interest of where we are today for our young men and the program. We’re going to do everything we can and fully intend to play some games this fall.”

UMass’ decision to play comes just days after the Big Ten unanimously voted to resume competition this fall. More Power Five conferences, including the PAC-12, are expected to follow suit and play this fall.

The Minutemen will likely play between three and six games this fall. Scheduling will depend on playing sites, game dates and state and team safety protocols.

“We need to make sure Walt, his men and this program have the opportunity to be successful,” Bamford said, “not just from a football perspective, but from a health perspective, a testing perspective and everything we need to do to get ready.”

Maintaining a healthy, COVID-free environment will be necessary for the Minutemen to stay on track to play, however. Maintaining the “bubble” the Minutemen and the University have built will be crucial when moving forward with scheduling games and travel logistics. The football team has only had two positive tests since the team returned to campus in late June.

“We’re not at this decision today without Walt and his group doing a phenomenal job maintaining a healthy environment, first and foremost,” Bamford said.

For Bell and the Minutemen, the mid-October start date gives the team time to ramp up its workouts. The NCAA had limited the amount of countable athletically related activity (CARA) hours for the team to 12 per week, with only five hours allowed for football related activities.

“I’m incredibly excited for the players,” head coach Walt Bell said. “It was a great deal this morning to tell the guys we’ll have a chance to compete. For me, I am overwhelmingly excited.”

UMass only had one padded camp practice prior to cancelling. During the lull period between the cancellation and now, the Minutemen have been lifting four days a week, with two individual skill sessions and one day of actual football practice a week. With a young roster full of players who have not played contact football in months, Bell said the team will make gradual progress toward playing full contact. Ramping up practices also must follow NCAA compliance guidelines, said Bell.

“The physical contact and preparation for the physical toll of the game is going to be a big piece of getting ready,” said Bell. “We’ll have two or three really heavy weeks and hopefully we’ll start moving into game week.”

Since the Minutemen team did not fully arrive on campus until early July for summer workouts, the extra time between the season cancellation and now has proved important for conditioning and strength training.

“To get four and a half weeks of real strength conditioning, some ground contacts, contact prep — that was big,” Bell said. “Same thing goes for body weight and performance nutrition. For us to have five to six weeks to collect ourselves, get a base footing of conditioning, some strength and conditioning work, it’s almost like we got half a summer before starting our camp. You feel like you’re a little more prepared to practice the way you normally do.”

With a lack of practices so far, the Minutemen depth chart is wide open for competition. Special teams will especially be a major challenge to figure out.

“We’ve got some guys that are a little bit established and we’ve got plenty of open competition,” said Bell. “Especially since in the OTA periods when special teams wasn’t allowed, it will be a big part of it. There are some positions that are really established, but there are plenty of positions for competition.”

The decision to play comes a few days after a group of UMass players ran a “#WeWantToPlay” campaign via Twitter. Meanwhile, three players have opted out of the season so far according to Bell.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheDanMcGee.