As Division I football programs continue their preparations for the 2020 season, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons reportedly is not quite as confident looking ahead to the fall — but he isn’t giving up yet.
In April, Lyons, who also serves as the chairman for the NCAA Football Oversight Committee, said he was “optimistic” about the prospect of a college football season. This notion, he said, was based on conversations with experts that indicated “normal life” could resume sometime in August.
On June 15, Division I football teams were given the green light to begin voluntary workouts and in the time since, five Mountaineer football student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 — as well as hundreds across the country.
According to ESPN’s Heather Dinich, Lyons says the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic at this point has not matched his previous hopes.
“I’m still not of the mind to say, ‘Gee, we shouldn’t do this,’ or ‘We should throw in the towel,’ but on the other hand, am I less confident than I was maybe a week ago? Absolutely,” Lyons told ESPN. “I don’t think there’s any way you wouldn’t be.”
The key, he says, is whether or not students return to campuses in the fall.
“It’s very unlikely that we would play fall sports — highly unlikely we would play fall sports — if we didn’t have our students back on campus,” he added. “If our presidents and chancellors didn’t feel it was safe to have our students on campus, it’s very hard to see college sports happening in the fall.”
Furthermore, Lyons has questions regarding the safety of student-athletes, as well as the cost of COVID-19 testing for each program. He told Dinich that the current tests administered to student-athletes, coaches and staff at football programs cost between $20,000 and $25,000 per week — a tall price for athletic departments across the country that project millions of dollars in shortfalls for the season.
Lyons and WVU Athletics have already projected a $5 million budget shortfall, leading the department to furlough a portion of its staff and issue pay cuts to its highest paid coaches and employees.
In addition, the currently-administered tests take two to three days before they return results. In order to get results by Friday for a Saturday game, that means the tests will need to be given on Wednesday — leaving the potential for infection in the days between.
“We feel that last week of July — you could potentially go into that first week in August — which is roughly three weeks prior to the first game, and start making decisions, but that’s really pushing up against the deadline at that point,” Lyons told Dinich. “…What I’m being told by the medical experts is the next 2 1/2 to 3 weeks is really going to tell us what August and the possibility of starting a season in September is going to look like more than continuing practice activities.”