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U Football Season May Need “Hail Mary”

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July 16, 2020

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University of Minnesota Board of Regents member Michael Hsu is a supporter of college football but he is becoming skeptical the Golden Gophers will have a 2020 season.

Hsu told Sports Headliners this morning he has no inside information from the U about a 2020 football season, but he observes the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in America, and also what the leaders of college football are saying. The Ivy League has cancelled its fall football season and may play in the spring. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced if there is a season, their schools will play conference opponents only.

The three other Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12 and SEC) haven’t been as definitive about their football schedules, saying decisions are coming later this month.  Then, too, Hsu looks at football heavyweight Notre Dame where school begins in early August and he wonders what ultimate decision school leaders will make there, including for students.  The Fighting Irish have already lost prestigious games on their football schedule with the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers and the Pac-12’s USC Trojans.

Other teams around the country have lost nonconference games previously scheduled against Big Ten teams.  These include schools that thrive on the large financial payouts for playing in Big Ten stadiums.  “It just doesn’t look good.  It’s a desperate time for football,” Hsu said.

Instead of a 12-game schedule, the Gophers and other Big Ten teams may play nine or 10 games each.  Perhaps fewer.  Options could include limiting Big Ten teams to games against rivals from their own division, West and East.  That would mean six total games for the Gophers and others.

There could be no season for Minnesota and other schools. With all the confusion, that’s why Hsu analyzes the situation and says, “To put it in football terms, it may be time to call the Hail Mary pass.”

Normally, the Gophers would be starting formal practices in a couple of weeks, with the first game in early September. But ultimately the decision to play will presumably be directed by the Minnesota Health Department and governor Tim Walz, a former championship high school football coach.

Initially if state and U authorities won’t okay playing games (or even practice), then a schedule gets moved further into the fall—if it even happens at all.  Hsu looks at the landscape here and across the country and recognizes state and local authorities could well come up with different decisions about approving football at their universities.  Such a mish-mash of thinking will complicate the coordination of schedules.  He looks at the COVID-19 numbers including deaths and wonders how much support there will be for football and other fall sports.  “The numbers are against us,” he said.

For strategic planning the difficulty with the pandemic is it’s all new and leaders, including academics and athletic departments, are trying to find best practices.  Trying to keep people safe, while recognizing the value of activities like college football that have so many benefits to participants and followers—plus irreplaceable revenues to fund much of the total sports programs at major universities like Minnesota.

Fall semester classes start September 8 at Minnesota. Hsu said the plan is for classroom and virtual classes.  The former demands the buy-in of professors to be comfortable in such an environment.  Things are planned but things can change.

With football, Hsu hopes there will be some form of a season.  He knows U leaders in the athletic department and school administration are looking at options, considering plans, crunching numbers.  But as of now the regents don’t know the specifics.

“We haven’t heard boo about anything,” Hsu said.

Worth Noting

A college athletics authority told Sports Headliners yesterday morning he expected an announcement this week from the NCAA approving the University of St. Thomas request to participate in Division I sports starting with the 2021-2022 school year. Yesterday afternoon school officials formally acknowledged the approval, with the Tommies joining the Gophers as a second Division I program in the state of Minnesota.

No definitive word on the transition was given last month when the NCAA met.  The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, believes St. Thomas was asked to complete paperwork that is now in place.

The approval clears the way for the Tommies to join The Summit League for most sports, plus the Pioneer Football League and the Women’s League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The St. Thomas men’s hockey program is yet to be aligned with a conference.

“St. Thomas brings the full package—an excellent academic reputation, experienced leadership, a massive alumni network and a winning culture,” Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple said in a news release. “With their values-based mission and status as Minnesota’s largest private university, we know the Tommies will represent The Summit League well and we’re proud to welcome them.”

It will be a new operations experience for the Twins and other MLB clubs when travel begins next week.  Teams will try to control the COVID risk with charter flights and precautions regarding meals.  Players will be advised to avoid bars and restaurants.

Sidelined for the season because of their age and the COVID risk are two Twins coaches, Bill Evers, 66, and Bob McClure, 68.

Among protocols MLB has in place to minimize the risk of spreading the virus in stadiums is no spitting will be allowed, nor can managers or players argue face-to-face with umpires.

Word is NHL and NCAA hockey players could be wearing new face shields this year to provide optimal protection from the virus.

Dean Evason, who had his status changed from interim to full-time Minnesota Wild head coach this week, has a two-year contract extension, but with compensation not announced. With no NHL head coaching experience he could be among the league’s lowest paid coaches, perhaps at $750,000 annually.

Hollis Cavner

The Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Dunkers and St. Paul-based Capital Club, who both feature prominent sports speakers throughout the year, are using Zoom for member programs during the pandemic. The Dunkers heard from Twins front office leaders Tuesday, and St. Paul Saints owner Mike Veeck talks to Capital Club members July 30.  The Dunkers will hear from 3M Open boss Hollis Cavner next Wednesday.

Also going virtual is this year’s Taste Fore The Tour to raise money for Bloomington-based food shelf VEAP—Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People.  All event proceeds go to VEAP including from the impressive online silent auction now in place.  Organizers point out $120 can feed a family of four for a month.  More at Tasteforethetour.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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