Like the rest of the nation, Mark Stoops is unsure if and when college football will return. Kentucky’s head football coach is preparing as though the season will start as planned Sept. 5, but the coronavirus may have other plans.
To get football back to the gridiron on schedule, a variety of proposals have been made by talking heads. Delaying the season and playing games without fans are the two most prominent alternatives. It may work for the NFL but Stoops does not see a world where college football is played in an empty stadium.
“I think there are definitely some different challenges for us. I think the first thing that comes to mind is there’s going to be a lot of critics out there. The optics of it, to say you’re going to have college players out there that are allowed to play and line up six inches apart from each other and breath on each other, sweat on each other, get in big piles and do all that, but you’re not allowed to have fans in the stadium? I mean, that’s going to be the first thing you hear, right?” Stoops told reporters on a Monday conference call.
“Other people are going to make those decisions but I’m not sure that’s a viable option. The other thing compared to the NFL is financially. I think it’s very important to have fans in the stands. Universities are counting on that. We need people in the stands. Before this whole situation happened you heard me talking about it, encouraging our fanbase to pick it and pick up season tickets, get in there because we need them. It makes a difference to us having them in there, both financially and for their support.”
Of course, there are many things to consider when leaders are making these decisions. For Stoops, player safety is the top priority. Teams must have an appropriate amount of time to get players’ bodies ready for the grueling SEC schedule. Leagues will likely allocate extra practice or instructional time before the season debuts.
When will we get to see the Kentucky Football team back in action? “I really don’t know and that’s just the truth,” said Stoops.
“Obviously I want to be there. Our staff and our players want to be there and we want the fans to be able to attend. It’s of my opinion we should play football with fans in attendance. I’m going to do the things I’ve been told and that’s go about my business and do the best we can to prepare our team to be able to play September 5th. That’s what we’re doing. Until somebody tells me otherwise that’s the way I’m going to go about my business is getting my team ready to play.
“If it does get pushed back, then we’ll deal with it. We’ll deal with it the best we can. But it’s real important for us to be out there. It’s important for our state and our community and it’s important for our fans to be there. I know probably everybody’s going a little bit stir crazy. Everybody’s starving for some live sports and we want to provide that. We want to be out there and provide an outlet for people to be able to escape some of this, but obviously we have to do it in a safe manner.”
He added, “I want to be out there and I want to be out there with fans in attendance because I believe they make a difference. We feel that energy, it’s a part of our sport and that’s the way I want to see it.”