ORLANDO, Fla. — With spring football camps abruptly canceled and college campuses closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak, coaches are slowly settling into a new normal filled with virtual team meetings and guiding players from afar.
Nobody knows the ultimate impact of the shutdown, but the possible financial ramifications have sent shivers down the backs of many athletics directors.
While some are unsure the 2020-21 football season will be played without a vaccine available, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association Todd Berry is confident it will happen.
“I don’t have any doubts that we will play,” Berry said.
He has been on daily conference calls with college football coaches, administrators, NCAA officials, medical personnel and athletes. From those discussions, it’s clear everyone associated with the sport wants to play.
“A shortened season, an extended season or a spring season … I’m not suggesting any of those,” Berry told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday. “But I do feel pretty strongly that we will play this next year.”
Regardless of the timeline, Berry said coaches are concerned with player safety and any decision to return to the field ultimately won’t come from them. But when there is clearance to work out together, coaches and their teams will be ready.
“They tell us when and we’ll play,” Berry said. “We’ll get our teams ready.”
During the past few weeks, Berry has heard a myriad of concerns from the coaches as they’re learning to adapt to shelter-at-home restrictions. Some of those worries stem from what will happen once campuses are allowed to open and football practices resume.
“They’re concerned whether there’s going to be a universal start date when we get back,” Berry said. “I don’t think anybody knows when that’s going to be, but … without a universal state date, you’re going to have some inequities and inconsistencies that are going to happen this summer as different states and different universities come back at different times.
“I think that’s one of the questions in relation to how are we going to roll this back in and have a level-playing field for my kids.”
Berry said one trend he’s noticed is younger coaches reaching out to veterans for guidance.
“There’s been a lot of sharing, especially with the older coaches. People wanting to know, ‘What did you do when you didn’t have them (players) there all summer?’ ” said Berry, who noted a spike in the number of coaching videos and podcasts shared on the AFCA website. “A lot of these coaches that we have now grew up in an environment where they’re used to having their kids there during the summer — working out and training. ‘How did you handle preseason practice?’ ”
Once campuses open, Berry said it won’t take long for teams to get ready to play.
“We know that you can get a team ready in four weeks,” said Berry, whose coaching career spanned three decades with stops at Army, Miami, UNLV and Louisiana-Monroe. “You might not be able to run your eight coverages; you might only be able to run four because you’re spending more time on conditioning your athletes, but these athletes train year-round anyway.
“It’s certainly probable based on our experiences that if you have four weeks to get them in shape to play football, you can do it in a four-week timeframe unless they’re not doing anything, which I suspect while some might, the majority are not.”
While weight training is a concern among coaches, the bigger issue tends to be the nutritional needs of players. Without 24-hour access to nutrition centers, players could find it difficult to get the required fuel for their bodies.
“While they may have the drive to work out, they might not be eating as well,” Berry said of players.
Berry recalled whenever he returned home from college, he sometimes only got one meal a day because his mom worked a job that only paid her minimum wage. Players could face comparable problems amid economic turmoil.
AFCA is creating some guidelines from older coaches to share with its members. They will share how they managed preseason workouts, what are reasonable expectations of players without the benefit of spring or summer workouts and how they can use old summer conditioning tests that were popular several decades ago.
Berry said while there have been no dates set for college football to resume workouts, there have been conversations about models for a July 1, Aug. 1 or Sept. 1 return.
“Again, just making sure we’ve covered all of our bases in relation to when that happens and while we don’t have to make any decisions yet, we have to have several models in place as those milestone dates approach,” he said. “Then you start looking at each and dig a little deeper in these three models we discussed and let’s decide on one.”
Throughout this challenging period, Berry said he’s been pleased with the response by everyone involved with college football.
“I’ve been very proud of the athletic community, the NCAA, the commissioners, the athletics directors and the medical people. Everybody’s working really well together and the sandbox is fun right now with everyone playing well,” he said.
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