“In my opinion, we need to bring our players back,” said Gundy (via Sports Illustrated), who has posted a 129-64 record over 15 seasons with the Cowboys. “They are 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 years old, and they are healthy and they have the ability to fight this virus off. If that is true, then we sequester them and continue, because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
As with the officials running major professional leagues in the United States, college football administrators are unclear on when, or even if, their sports can return this year. The spread of the coronavirus, which accounted for a new daily high in the United States of at least 1,900 deaths Tuesday, has led to most state governments recommending or mandating social distancing.
Those policies have resulted in huge economic damage, but public-health officials and others are stressing the greater importance of keeping the pandemic from overwhelming health-care systems.
To Gundy, though, there was an urgent “need to get back to playing football for a variety of reasons, if the medical people say we can.”
“We don’t need to let one or two months take that away from us,” he said. “There are too many people that are relying on it.”
Claiming that OSU football creates “about $36 million” in revenue while basketball makes $4 million, Gundy told reporters: “So when you’re talking about continuing the economy in this state, if you have to play — plus, you need to play anyway. Everybody needs to see football. Even if you just watch it on TV, it’s going to make people feel better.”
“We have to have a plan, and the plan right now is for that to start on May 1,” the 52-year-old asserted (via 247 Sports), despite the ruling from the Big 12 pushing back any such plan until at least the end of that month. “ … We’ll start with the employees of this company, this building. Then we’ll bring the players in. Slowly but surely, we’ll test them all in.
“Is it 100 percent? No, it’s not 100 percent,” he continued. “There could be people that work in this building that maybe are older, maybe have some kind of underlying health condition. Maybe they don’t come back. But the majority of people in this building who are healthy … and certainly the 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-olds that are healthy, the so-called medical people saying the herd of healthy people that have the antibodies maybe built up and can fight this? We all need to go back to work.”
College athletes are not paid salaries but often receive athletic scholarships that cover classes, housing, meals and medical attention. A few years ago, the NCAA began allowing student-athletes to receive, at their schools’ discretion, yearly stipends ranging from $2,000 to $5,000.
The financial impact of college football was also noted recently by Boston College Athletic Director Martin Jarmond, who called the weekly games in the fall “an economic stimulus for the whole community.”
“It’s not just us or athletic departments. It’s a bigger ecosystem that football Saturdays impact,” Jarmond said in comments published Tuesday by ESPN. “Think about Columbus, Ohio, on a football Saturday. Think about Gainesville, [Fla.], on a football Saturday. So I think that’s going to start picking up more. It’s a little different than the NCAA tournament. That’s a financial hit. That’s a big deal. Students miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. That is tough. But that doesn’t impact a community like a football game does.”
There have been discussions about pushing the college football season back to the spring of 2021 if the pandemic does not abate sufficiently by autumn. To Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, the most important issues are making sure that all programs can resume play at the same time and that fans can attend.
“My sense is everybody has to be able to go,” Swarbrick said (via ESPN). “There aren’t very attractive versions of this where you say, ‘Well, schools in 30 states will start the season, and those in the other 20 won’t.’ ”
Swarbrick added that he didn’t “see a model where we play, at least any extended number of games, in facilities where we don’t have fans.”
“College football is about the cheerleaders and the band and the campus environment on game day,” he said. “We’re interested in solutions that allow us to have a traditional game-day experience.”
North Carolina Coach Mack Brown said Tuesday that he thought “we’ll play in the fall,” but added, “I can’t see us playing without fans because if it’s not safe enough for the fans, then it’s not safe enough for the players.”
To Oklahoma State’s coach, though, providing economic relief appeared to be a major priority.
“We’re trying to find a way to pay everybody’s salary and keep the economy going, because if you’re paying salaries and people are working, then you’re keeping the economy going, and that gives us the best chance, in the state, to stay on our feet,” said Gundy, who was the 13th-highest-paid college football coach last year at $5.215 million (per USA Today). “So, yes, if you have to play with zero people [in attendance] — which I don’t think is going to happen — yes, you play.”