MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–With conferences canceling sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ACC, Big 12 and SEC trudging forward with the season, all schools, including West Virginia are taking extreme precautions to keep student-athletes safe.
For Neal Brown and the Mountaineers, they want to play and feel it is the safest option. Sitting out the 2020 season or postponing it left more questions and uncertainty than answers.
“I think the biggest question is – and this is something that people aren’t talking about – what is the plan if we don’t play?” Brown asked. “Everybody is saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make decisions’ well what is the plan? How do we handle these 100 student-athletes we’ve got, all of those student-athletes from all these Power 5 schools and Group of 5 schools?
“We broke out of here in March and all sports ended and nobody really had a plan because we didn’t see this coming,” he continued. “We didn’t have time to plan. Before we make a decision about if we’re going to play or if we are not going to play we’ve got to make decisions about what it’s going to look like if we don’t play.”
There are so many unknowns regarding the coronavirus, including long-term health effects.
However, the NBA and NHL are successfully managing to play while keeping their players and staff safe.
That is the goal of Brown and the Mountaineers’ staff.
“The thing we always talk about is respect the virus,” he said. “My question is I know the medical experts have to look at this from the medical point of view. It’s serious. It’s a novel virus, which means it’s new. We don’t know the long-term effects, but we continue to garner information.
“I will say this, our return-to-play policies include echocardiograms, cardio MRIs and all of those hot button issues that are being talked about right now,” he said. “We are going through every procedure our medical team advises. There has been a long process to get back on the field.”
Despite having some positives upon first returning to the facility, the football team is currently case free.
If the players didn’t play, would they be taking the same precautions to be safe?
“If they are not playing football, are they going through the same safety protocols? They want to continue to work out,” Brown said. “Are they safer doing that here than going to their local high school or local gym? Absolutely, because of what we are doing from a cleaning standpoint. We are outdoors. We have professionals and experts in their fields here. I can answer those questions, but I don’t know what all 100 of them are going to do. I can speculate.”
Nothing is 100 percent safe but the Mountaineers are doing everything to ensure the players’ safety.
WVU has developed cleaning protocols. The team is doing split practices and all virtual meetings. The weight room has been moved outdoors to the concourse of Milan Puskar Stadium. Team meals are served outdoors or are packaged in to-go bags.
The Mountaineers have made changes to the helmets to help ensure safety. They have splash guards at the bottom and a face shield at the top of the mask. Underneath the helmet, players have gaiters underneath their helmet around their neck, which they can choose to wear or not under the helmet. Once the helmet comes off, the gators are to be worn.
The staff makes sure all the balls and equipment are properly and thoroughly cleaned.
Protocols are constantly changing to help ensure the best safety for everyone.
If players do not feel safe, they can redshirt and sit out like Kerry Martin Jr. opted. However, the majority want to play.
“Our team wants to play,” Brown said. “Our coaches want to coach, and I think it’s important to be out there. Obviously, a lot of our guys were a part of that movement last night and how incredible that was. I stayed up way later than I usually do – or wanted to – just because I was moved, not only by the actions of our players, but players across college football in using their voice and using it in a manner that clearly says that they want to play.”
He continued, “I will be clear – they don’t have to play. They have the opportunity to opt out and remain on scholarship. They do have a choice of whether they do play or don’t. We believe in the protocols we have in place to keep our players and our staff as safe as possible.”
Cover Photo Credit: WVU Athletics Communications