Despite an ever-changing landscape that requires almost daily adjustment for college athletic directors, Colorado State University’s Joe Parker remains optimistic that the Rams will be playing football this fall in front of real, live fans.
Parker made those comments Monday, July 20, in an online media opportunity designed to follow up on a video CSU’s Department of Athletics sent Sunday to supporters. Parker did his best to describe the unique situation COVID-19 has created for every sports entity.
“We’re still pushing forward until people tell us that’s not what we should be doing,” Parker said. “We’ve reviewed all kinds of scenarios of what a season might look like. Our total focus right now is to play a complete Mountain West schedule and look toward a conference championship game, but nothing is off the table.”
The Rams’ 2020 schedule – the most attractive in several years – recently took a disappointing turn when the Pac-12 Conference announced that its teams would play conference-only games. That decision meant that the highly anticipated Sept. 5 home opener against rival Colorado – the Buffs haven’t played in Fort Collins since 1994 – and the Sept. 12 game at Oregon State were canceled.
The rest of the schedule remains unchanged for now, including a Sept. 19 home game against Northern Colorado and a Sept. 26 game at Vanderbilt. Parker said he is exploring the possibility of filling the two schedule openings with games against regional opponents left with voids by the decision of the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences to only play league opponents.
A work in progress
Kansas, which plays in the Big 12, has an opening Sept. 5, and Brigham Young, which is independent, lost its entire September schedule before announcing a Sept. 5 game at Alabama. Home-and-home series with Mountain West rivals Wyoming and Air Force have also been discussed.
“We’re still trying to fight forward and play as many games as possible,” he said. “Anything is possible. It’s not likely we will replace those games but that doesn’t mean we won’t look for options.”
Parker’s primary focus is keeping CSU student-athletes and coaches safe now that most fall sports teams have returned to campus for offseason workouts. CSU has performed 203 total COVID-19 tests, with three positives among student-athletes. None are football players, and all three are expected to resume workouts this week after being in isolation.
Parker also noted that two staff members have tested positive, but he declined to say which team they are a part of.
“We’re a Tier I research university, and I can’t tell how valuable that has been during this process,” he said. “We’re going to put the health and safety of our student athletes first. I would put our professionals in research, at Orthopedic Center of the Rockies, and the CSU Health Network up against any other group.”
Game day plans being formulated
As for managing game days, CSU is part of a larger group of Colorado colleges and universities working together to establish universal protocols to allow fans to attend games in a safe environment. The group includes CU, Air Force, UNC and several members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which includes CSU-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines, Fort Lewis College and three other in-state schools.
Parker said that group has sent its list of best practices to the Colorado Department of Higher Education for approval, and that CSU is working with Larimer County health officials on a local level.
“We’re fortunate to have a facility like Canvas Stadium,” he said. “Our aspiration is that we can maintain social distancing at 50 percent of capacity (seating capacity is 36,500). We’re looking at entrances, exits, restrooms and concessions stands.”
Different sports, different issues
The issues for CSU’s volleyball team are not as simple. The Rams play in Moby Arena, which has a capacity of 8,745, but social distancing would be more challenging because of the indoor environment — especially at Moby, where fans sit very close to the court and the Rams draw large crowds.
Overall, Parker said the staff in athletics will continue to adjust to daily – and sometimes hourly – changes and the challenges they present. And he’s fully aware that fall sports might not happen.
“Our fans have been incredible throughout this process,” he said. “They really understand that we’ve been faced with unprecedented challenges. Obviously, we’re approaching a time when we need to get a plan in place so people can make informed decisions. If we knew where the finish line was it would be much, much easier to plan for, but that’s not the case.
“We’ve all learned a great deal during this process, but I’m ready for the lessons to end, start getting back to normal activities and not have to be so concerned about COVID-19.”