UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo connected his phone Thursday night to the speaker system at the Fertitta Football Complex. So when athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois and school president Keith Whitfield called to tell him the Mountain West was playing football this fall, the entire team heard what they had to say.
“The joy that we heard in those young men’s cheers and seeing Coach Arroyo’s face and seeing the scene unfolding, it made the last 197 days really worthwhile,” Reed-Francois said. “We know there are going to be challenges … but we will take them head-on.”
The Rebels know this much: They will be playing football this fall, and they will be playing home games at Allegiant Stadium, Reed-Francois confirmed Friday afternoon during a videoconference with local reporters. Their schedule probably won’t be available until sometime next week, but the Rebels returned Friday morning for their first full practice under Arroyo.
“Usually we have a summer and spring, but no one has that,” said Arroyo, who noted that the entire team was present. “We’ve got to be really, really constructive and really creative on how to approach this.”
Fans right now are not permitted to attend home games, but Reed-Francois said the university is working with local and state authorities toward establishing parameters that would allow for a limited number of fans. She stressed, though, that it may not be possible. Tailgating is a possibility.
Players and coaches will be subjected to three antigen tests per week, per the conference’s coronavirus protocols.
Social distancing protocols are still in place, and the Mountain West is hopeful that its 12 programs can establish “bubble” settings on their respective campuses. That doesn’t so much mean a restrictive, geographical bubble, like the one the NBA is using, but more so a bubble that limits access to players and coaches — especially on game days.
Reed-Francois said UNLV is trying to learn from programs across the country that have already begun playing football.
“We can look at the schools that are playing and learn from opportunities they’ve had, challenges they’ve had and what’s been working,” she said. “This is an evolving situation.”
Arroyo emphasized the importance of fall football. He said “the sooner (we can get on the field), the better.”
“It checks all the boxes. It lifts morale. You get back to doing what these guys’ passion is to do,” Arroyo said. “Having a chance to get out there today was awesome. It speaks for itself.”
Around the league
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday that he expects all 12 of the conference’s football programs to start the season Oct. 24. But he noted that the league still needs clearance from local government officials in some of its markets. The league is partnering with Quest Diagnostics to administer the three antigen tests per week to upward of 100 people from each school.
Thompson said the testing will cost “millions of dollars” and that the conference is accessing a reserve fund to pay for it.
Mountain West programs will have eight weeks to complete eight games, and Thompson said he doesn’t anticipate all 12 teams playing the entirety of their schedules because of the virus. Most teams will play a conference-only slate, but Boise State may play a previously scheduled game against Brigham Young, and Air Force may still play other service academies.
Canceled games will not be rescheduled.
Thompson said he hopes the league can still decide its championship game opponents through divisional records, but he said teams with the top two winning percentages will otherwise earn a berth. The team with the best winning percentage will host the championship game, he said.
“We didn’t base anything on the Big Ten or any other conference,” Thompson said. “It didn’t just happen in the last week. We’ve been working on this for months now. We’ve been working to get three tests (per week) for each campus.”