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MW commissioner: Much unknown about return of college sports

Updated April 28, 2020 - 2:32 pm

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, in a wide-ranging interview, gave his thoughts on what the coming months in college athletics could look like.

It’s all, he acknowledged, speculation.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘ “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer today,’ ” Thompson said. “And it’s true because we don’t know. You can have seven options. You can have 10 options. You can have all kinds of variables.

“Until we get back to the on-campus educational experience, I think that’s where it all starts. Is there a more dense community than a college campus? If campuses aren’t open, how can you really justify that we’re going to allow our athletes to come back?”

Each athletic department, including UNLV, has contingency plans in place to be ready to go once it’s determined the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer an all-consuming threat to safely playing games.

“To get college sports back, but particularly football, it’s going to take the biggest, most collaborative effort in our history,” Thompson said.

Major decisions to be made

Thompson weighed on the following topics.

On proposals by conferences outside the Power Five to get leniency regarding minimum standards, such as the number of games and participants needed:

“This isn’t something that we can just continue to discuss and hem and haw about for weeks. As we get closer to let’s say mid-May, decisions have to be made on what we’re looking to do in the fall. I’m anticipating 15-20 percent cuts in a lot of athletic budgets for next year.”

On what steps could be taken to save money:

“To save sports and to maintain sports sponsorship, we can look at things like fewer events, fewer participants perhaps. A number of conferences are talking about at least for a year a suspension of the championship and just playing a regular season, or you could have just the championship and not much of a regular season.”

On the importance of saving sports:

“What we’re trying to do is maintain competition, but maybe not as the same level as it was in 2019-20.”

Saving football season

On whether the football season could begin on time:

“Question 1 is who makes the decision and when will the decision be made? Is a universal start date even possible? You’ve got 50 state governors. In the FBS subdivision alone, 130 university presidents, 130 athletic directors, 130 coaches, training and medical staffs. Ten FBS commissioners. … There are a lot of people who will ultimately weigh in before decisions are made. Maybe there’s possibly a hybrid model where instead of two months ago there were 30,000 people on campus, maybe we’re able to come back with 10,000 students, including athletes.”

On what if most states allow students back but others don’t:

“I’ve heard a figure of 80 percent. If 80 percent can open, well what we do we specifically in the Mountain West? … If New Mexico and Nevada are not open and the others are, do we reschedule and play on without UNLV, Nevada and the University of New Mexico? This is totally hypothetical, but it’s a big national issue, and it’s certainly a logistical issue for conferences that are spread over six or eight states with vast differences between those universities.”

On possibly moving the football season to spring:

“There’s that recent poll that came out that 99 percent of 114 athletic directors said they believed the season would be played in one form or another. When that season is is the biggest question, and almost 75 percent of that same sampling of the 114 ADs believe the season will be delayed. So is that a midseason October start? Is that a two-semester challenge?”

On whether a potential second wave of the coronavirus is part of the discussions:

“There are so many unknowns, and that’s the real challenge. Everybody’s trying to get back to normal as soon as we can for all reasons, but you just don’t know.”

On trying to get in a full season:

“I would say certainly the goal is to get a full season in in some manner. Is that possible? Is it a truncated eight-game season and conference play only? Unknown at this point.”

On the minimum preparation time for football players to get ready for a season:

“I had a really good conversation with our coaches, and it started with eight weeks (being) optimal. Then after an hour discussion, could it be done in four weeks? Absolutely. Not the preferred. So somewhere between four and eight weeks. … The models that are probably getting the most traction are six weeks if that’s possible, but four doable, eight preferred.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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