We live in the age of “what about.”
Much like everything else over the past six months, the Mountain West’s decision to return to football this fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic comes with a seemingly endless number of questions, concerns and frustrations about why some things apply here, but not there, or for some people, but not others.
None of that has changed.
But as best we can, here are some of those “what abouts” that we can try to answer today or at least let you know we’ve asked:
Q: What changed since August when the Mountain West Board of Directors decided to postpone all fall sports indefinitely, citing health concerns?
A: Primarily, the availability of testing. While there remain concerns about the virus itself and its affects on players, coaches, trainers or anyone else for that matter, a major change in the past month or so has been the increased availability of rapid response testing that will allow college teams to test a minimum of three times a week, easing, though not eliminating, concerns of potential larger scale outbreaks in a campus community.
Q: What are the testing requirements for the Lobo football team?
A: For now, the team is testing weekly as it prepares to return to full practice. A week, or two, prior to the season starting next month, the Mountain West will take over paying for three tests a week for UNM and all schools.
Q: Who is doing the testing?
A: The MWC secured an undisclosed agreement with Quest Diagnostics to handle the testing league wide.
Q: What type of testing will there be?
A: Quest will provide three times a week rapid result point of contact (POC) testing. A positive POC test would lead to a person having to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) follow up test to confirm the result.
Q: When does the season start?
A: It is expected to start Oct. 24 with a championship game Dec. 19.
Q: How many games will there be? Where’s the schedule?
A: The MWC plans for an eight-game season with four home games and four road games for most teams, though a final schedule has not been released. Some schools had prior commitments for games (Boise State vs. BYU on Nov. 6 and Air Force vs. Army on Nov. 7) that may lead to those teams only having seven scheduled league games.
Q: Will fans be allowed to attend Lobo games?
A: Not if the games were held today, but they’re a month away and things can change. The Governor’s Office on Friday told the Journal in an email, “If the protocols are in place, home games (without spectators) would be possible.”
All decisions on fans in the stands league wide are up to state and local authorities, not the league office.
Q: What are the protocols required by the Governor’s Office for the Lobos to play and bypass the current public health order that prohibits mass gatherings, including practices, of more than 10 people?
A: A lot. And the final list, UNM says, has not been given to the athletic department. But among the requirements, according to the email the Governor’s Press Secretary sent the Journal, are the multiple tests a week, wearing masks, various degrees of quarantine requirements,
Q: What will testing cost?
A: Nobody is saying for sure, but Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said he anticipates for football alone, three tests a week for an eight-game season with 12 teams each having a “bubble size” of roughly 140 people (players, coaches, trainers and anyone else regularly allowed into practices, travel or games), the cost will get “well into the millions.”
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said the MWC testing will be a baseline and UNM plans to do additional testing that it will pay for, but exactly how much or where in the athletics department budget that will come from is not yet known.
Q: So can youth and high school sports practice and play now, too?
A: Not exactly. As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham alluded to in her weekly COVID-19 update video conference on Thursday, there are simply some things professional and college sports teams are able to do that the state can’t afford to provide for high school and youth sport athletes. Primarily, that’s the amount of testing being done to monitor, and hopefully prevent, large outbreaks.
Q: Will games be televised?
A: Yes, some will. But the Mountain West does not yet know how much revenue from the league’s television contract will be paid out for what is a shortened season.
Q: What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19 during the season?
A: One player with a positive test won’t cancel a game. But the number that would force a cancellation hasn’t yet been announced by the league. Some conferences already playing football have put in place position requirements, meaning if a certain percentage of the team’s linebackers test positive, a game might be canceled rather than teams randomly throwing players into unusual positions just to fill out a roster.
It is unclear when the MWC will release their testing threshold numbers.
Q: Will teams release their positive test results publicly?
A: While the league and each team playing will be alerted of positive tests before they play, whether or not a team releases their positive test numbers is up to each school. Nuñez said UNM plans to continue releasing its numbers weekly, though that doesn’t mean players will be identified.
Q: What happens if a team can’t play a game, be it for too many COVID positives or other reasons?
A: Nuñez said it seems likely the league will determine any game in which a team can’t play due to too many positive COVID-19 tests will be a “no-contest” and won’t count as a win or loss for either team. But if a team can’t play for local or other circumstances, that team might have to face a forfeit, which would count as a loss and a win for the other team.
Q: Why does a forfeit or no-contest matter?
A: The Mountain West still plans to crown a league champion in a title game between the winners of the Mountain and West divisions. With a varying number of games, Thompson said that might be determined by win percentage.
Q: What about New Mexico State?
A: With the MAC also back in play as of Friday, the Aggies, Connecticut and Old Dominion are the only three of 130 FBS schools, per Stadium’s count, with no plans to play this fall.