Chuck Martin seemed almost shocked by the question.
On a Zoom press conference Saturday, Miami’s head football coach was asked what his team will look like on the field this season.
“Hey!” Martin said softly with a smile. “I’ve been waiting for that question for I don’t know — since March. So that’s awesome! We actually have a football question.”
In early August, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) postponed all fall sports to the spring to protect the well-being of student-athletes from COVID-19. Martin didn’t think he’d get to talk much football this fall until the league reversed its decision Friday. The presidents of all the MAC schools voted unanimously to play football starting in November.
So what changed?
Miami athletic director David Sayler said conversations about football returning commenced in early September. He talked with Miami President Greg Crawford. Martin said he did not interact directly with Crawford.
“Well, I know just for us here at Miami, we started thinking about how things could be different when the NCAA started talking about a basketball start date around Thanksgiving,” Sayler. “If you just play that out and do the math backwards … you take six weeks before the start of basketball, we were going to have kids running full-contact practices in basketball in October. So how does that mesh with the debate that we couldn’t have football happening?”
Two weeks ago, the NCAA determined college basketball will start Nov. 25.
Sayler also said Miami acquired a rapid antigen COVID-19 test machine.
“Once we knew we could have that, that really started to change the mentality around that we can execute this,” Sayler said.
Miami will test football players four times a week, which is more than every other conference but the Big Ten and PAC-12.
After an initial COVID-19 outbreak on campus, cases have calmed down in recent weeks. On the university’s COVID dashboard, Miami reported only 22 new cases Sunday. Sayler said the continuing decline in active cases helped him feel comfortable resuming football.
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The MAC also put together a group of medical advisors, which OK’ed the league’s comeback.
Like Miami’s decision to return to campus and some in-person classes earlier this month, reputation was taken into account. The MAC didn’t want to be the only holdout.
“The difference the Big Ten made is that, in our geographic footprint, with them coming back, basically everybody was playing high school, college and (professional football) besides us,” Sayler said. “And that’s what probably started the tilt, like ‘We need to try to do this.’”
Now, they will try it.
Martin said his team is currently running NFL-style organized team activities to build up its conditioning. Full-padded practices won’t kick off for at least another week.
Beginning Nov. 4, MAC schools will play six regular season games against league opponents, leading to a conference championship game Dec. 18 or 19 in Detroit.
“This timing for our league is not bad,” Martin said. “You can always find the negatives, like we’re starting later than everyone else, blah blah blah. You know, there are some programs that started down one direction, that I know coaches on, and failed. Like, their plan failed, and they scrapped their plan already, and they’re on a new plan, and their new plan is working much better. We’re taking it as being a little bit late to the party is giving us and our league an opportunity to learn from other schools.”
And if the MAC’s plan works, Martin will be happy. He’ll get to keep talking about football.