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UConn cancels its football season

As days passed by and with preseason camp about to begin, the decision became obvious to everyone involved with the UConn football program.

There was an overwhelming consensus — from coach Randy Edsall, players, athletic director David Benedict, medical staff, president Thomas Katsouleas and the Board of Trustees — to cancel the fall football season.

Risks involved with competing during the COVID-19 pandemic far outweighed the rewards.

The school made the announcement on Wednesday morning.

"It's been very interesting to say the least coming back here (July 1) knowing as we went into this that there were going to be challenges...," Edsall said during a virtual press conference. "First and foremost, I'm very appreciative of the University setting up the guidelines and protocols to keep our student-athletes safe and to mitigate the risk as much as we have because we haven't had a positive test since we've come back. We've done the things necessary to try to put ourselves in a position to be able to play this season. Our players wanted to play. They were eager to play and wanted to do what we had to do.

"But, as we continued through this process, it became evident that we weren't going to be able to do that and understanding that the most important thing for us is to make sure that we look out for the health and welfare of the student-athletes."

The Huskies were about to embark on their first season as an independent program after leaving the American Athletic Conference. Now that will be put on hold until 2021.

With the decision, UConn became the first FBS program to cancel its season this year. The Huskies will not play football in the fall for the first time since 1943.

"The timing was more based on and driven by the student-athletes and the fact that we were supposed to start camp (Wednesday)," Benedict said. "And I think our student-athletes expressed a desire to have a decision made by this time so they could understand and have some certainty as to whether or not we're going to prepare like we have a season or are we going to make a decision that we made and have some certainty as we move forward.

"It really didn't have anything to do with being first. It had to do with making a decision that was going to be in the best interests of our student-athletes."

Ultimately, the players' opinion carried the most weight, according to Edsall. He called them the most important people involved with the program.

Edsall, Benedict and medical staff met with the team's leadership council last Friday. Then Edsall spoke with the Board of Trustees.

They all agreed on the best course of action.

"We went through everything," Edsall said. "Every young man had an opportunity to speak and they were united in terms of what they felt was best for them. They didn't feel the risk was worth the reward in terms of playing. We heard them loud and clear and supported them 100 percent."

Edsall added that he would have come to the same decision if he had been the head coach of a Power Five or Group of Five conference program, "because these young men's lives are more important than money. I'm just glad we made the right decision."

Senior Ryan Van Demark read a statement from the team during the virtual press conference.

"As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally & physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. 

"We love this game and love competing. We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome."

It became apparent to Edsall and his players in recent weeks that it would be too risky from a health standpoint to try to play this fall.

Numerous Huskies either had to be isolated because they had symptoms or quarantined after contact tracing. Only about 30 percent of the team participated in 14 workouts leading up to last week.

"I always had doubts," Edsall said. "I still remember the day we were up on the field and we were doing things and everything else is going on, I called David and said, 'There's no way we can do this. We just can't get it done.'

"Then, maybe the next day we go up there and we're walking up the hill with the guys and they say to me, 'Coach, there's no way we can play a season.' So that kind of started the ball rolling in terms of talking with them and everything else."

Even in a best case scenario situation, the Huskies doubted that they could move forward with the season.

More challenges remained ahead of them, and that's well before even trying to play a game.

They were concerned about what would happen once the student body returns to campus later this month.

"We have a really good bubble right now," Edsall said. "I give our kids credit for doing the things that they've done because we don't have a positive test as of right now. That's something that we can control. We can't control what's going to happen come Aug 14-15, when there's 8,000 more people here on campus. We'll do our best to be leaders, doing social distancing and masks and doing the things the right way.

"I think our kids just saw how many guys that can miss practice. They saw the fact that we're still lifting in groups of 16 in the weight room. We're not into our locker room yet. They're showering in their dorms and apartments that they live in on campus.

"... There was a culmination of things. I respect our guys. They just wanted to get as much information as they could."

Before the decision, UConn's 12-game schedule already started falling apart, losing contests with Indiana, Illinois, Maine and Mississippi. It would have been difficult to still play North Carolina and Virginia as well as some other teams due to travel restrictions.

Only regional games against UMass and Army could be realistically counted on.

But Benedict says UConn would have had a full schedule if the Huskies elected to play.

"The number of calls and emails and text messages that I've received over the last couple of weeks inquiring about schools wanting to put together games, that would not have been a problem," Benedict said. "However, it would have not looked the same as our schedule did entering the season."

Edsall and his Huskies will now focus on preparing for the future. The team will be allowed to continue to have access to the football facilities and remain enrolled in school as full-time students.

Benedict expects the NCAA will make a similar decision as it did in the spring in regards to extending eligibility.

The UConn football team feels good about having a clearer and safer plan.

"This decision became very obvious to make," Benedict said. "We're happy to be at this point and give our student-athletes some certainty as they move forward. And we look forward to continuing to develop them in both the academic side as well as the athletic side."

As far as UConn's other fall programs, those teams will still play. The Big East already announced a later start to the season and limited schedules to only conference games.

g.keefe@theday.com

 

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