LARAMIE — Fall sports in the Mountain West are on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, and when they’ll resume is anybody’s guess.
When the conference made its decision to postpone fall sports indefinitely, including football, it left open the possibility of those sports being played in the spring, which can bring its own set of logistical challenges for many of the league’s 12 football members, including Wyoming. The Equality State is prone to bitterly cold winters with January usually being the most frigid month of the year, according to Weather Atlas. It’s not uncommon for snow to last late into the spring.
Then there’s trying to compress the calendar and play two seasons of a heavy contact sport within months of each other. With conferences citing the health and well-being of their student-athletes as the driving factor in their decisions to call off fall sports for now, that may be difficult to justify.
“I don’t think it makes sense to play a full season this spring and then try to play a full season in the fall,” UW athletic director Tom Burman told the Star-Tribune in a recent phone interview.
Burman added he’s not convinced there will be a spring football season of any kind, though he said he doesn’t think it’s impossible. But Burman offered a specific proposal if it’s going to happen in a place like Wyoming.
“I think if they were to ask me, I would say you have a six-week prep time for the start of the season,” Burman said. “So you bring kids back in the middle of January and you start practice in the middle of January and you start games the first of March. You play March, April and most of May, and you have a football championship format. And whether you can squeeze bowl games in there or not, I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
That might depend on how many Football Bowl Subdivision conferences actually entertain the idea of playing in the spring. As of Tuesday, six of the 10 leagues are still planning to play this fall, including a trio of Group of Five leagues: Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the American Athletic Conference.
During an in-house interview with the Mountain West Network last week, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said he thought some sort of spring season would be feasible, but figuring out a spring format may depend on how many conferences are available to play. Three non-conference opponents on UW’s schedule (Utah, Weber State and Ball State) have also had their fall seasons nixed, but Burman said he’d be in favor of playing a conference-only schedule in the spring, which would cut the length of the season from 12 games to eight if the conference were to stick to the current scheduling format for each team (five division opponents and three cross-division opponents).
Doing so could also be financially beneficial at a time when athletic departments are losing significant revenue.
“If you’re going to reduce the number of games from 12 down to something else, you might as well just play within the conference,” Burman said. “And it might save us some money if we can do some regional games and play in pods of some sort. Play (Colorado State), New Mexico, Utah State, Air Force and a couple of crossovers. The total cost and expenses might be a little bit less than a normal season. That would have some interest from me.”
But if America continues to struggle containing the spread of COVID-19, the topic of a spring season will likely become moot. As of Tuesday, the United States had nearly 5.5 million cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. In Wyoming, the number of confirmed cases has more than doubled since July 1 to 2,850, though the state’s death rate is still third-lowest nationally, according to the New York Times.
Burman said a dip in the numbers or the development of a vaccine would have to happen for him to realistically think conferences could pull of a spring football season. Even then, Burman has said UW will take players’ opinions into account before asking them to take the field for competition.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.
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