Oklahoma football: Early signs from players’ return signaling new concerns for 2020 season

Oklahoma football players will not return to campus until July 1, but what we are learning from those schools where the players are already back is creating pause and renewed concerns about the 2020 season.

It shouldn’t be a total surprise that virtually every school that has returned to football activities has reported one or more players testing positive for COVID-19. Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley acknowledged last week on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show and was quoted by The Oklahoman newspaper as saying:

“No one’s immune to this. We’ve had a player or two that has been either exposed or has tested positive for this thing, just like everybody else has. The difference for us is our players aren’t all here together, so they haven’t infected or exposed a bunch of players here.”

Several schools have suspended voluntary workouts because of coronavirus outbreaks. Kansas State in the Big 12 stopped football workouts because 14 players tested positive, and Clemson halted all activities after 23 players tested positive for COVID-19. Texas reported that 13 of its players have tested positive and reigning national champion LSU says a number of its returning players have been placed in quarantine.

Riley said over a month ago that having players return to campus as early as June 1 was “one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.” The wisdom in that statement is playing out all over the country where players returned earlier this month for voluntary workouts.

Riley says OU has used the extra time to learn what is going on at the schools where players have returned and to speak to people at some of the schools. “We have been able to learn some without our players being at risk, and that has certainly been helpful,” he said.

The Sooner head coach says he feels like they are more educated and more prepared to deal with the situation when the OU players begin returning next Wednesday, but he is not naïve to believe that everything will be 100 percent.

It’s hard to know what will transpire once the Sooner players return to the Norman campus, but it’s also safe to say that the OU football operations staff will be as well prepared as any school in the country to deal with any health and safety concerns that could arise.

Most everyone involved with college football is voicing optimism that there will be a season in the fall. The bigger concern is how complete it might be in view of all the outbreaks of the virus we are seeing around the country during voluntary workouts.

Contingencies will need to be part of the planning if one or more players test positive for COVID-19 several days before a game.

If the season is disrupted for whatever reason, which is a realistic possibility given what we are seeing early on in the preseason, how will things be adjudicated if, for example, some teams are able to play only eight games while others complete more than that. Leveling the playing field for postseason consideration will certainly be more complex if something like that occurs.

Fans will probably be permitted to attend games, but in dramatically smaller numbers than traditionally because of social distancing requirements. Where this may have the greatest impact as far as Oklahoma football is concerned is the annual OU-Texas game held at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas the second weekend of October. What if the State Fair of Texas is cancelled this October because of coronavirus concerns?

The Oklahoman newspaper reported that more than 100,000 people attended the fair each of the 24 days it was open last year, and that number almost doubles on the day of the game. Part of the attraction of the game is the State Fair going on outside during the football game. A decision on whether the State Fair of Texas will be held in 2020 is expected by the middle of July.

Riley does not believe that the concerns of the Sooner football team will be any different for the Texas game than for any other game on the 2020 schedule. The Cotton Bowl, where the Red River rivalry game has been played since 1932, sits inside of Fair Park.

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All the preliminary preparations will shortly be behind us. Next week, the clock starts clicking for real on the 2020 Oklahoma football season, all while the country continues the ongoing battle against the initial wave of COVID-19.


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