After weeks of uncertainty about the viability of a fall football season due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the biggest dominoes fell Aug. 11. The Big Ten became the first Power Five conference to postpone fall sports with the possibility of playing in the spring, followed shortly thereafter by the Pac-12. Those decisions — coupled with the postponements of the Mid-American and Mountain West seasons — upended the Division I FBS football landscape.
For Maryland football — which began formal practices Aug. 7 — the decision comes at a particularly critical time. Players eager to get back on the field have now had their routines broken, according to former Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen. And they can now no longer look forward to playing the sport they love for the foreseeable future.
“It’s got to be a lot of disappointment there because of what they’ve prepared for, and they’re going to miss playing,” Friedgen said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 12.
The decision to put off the season wasn’t exactly unexpected. Reports circulated in the days after the Big Ten’s Aug. 5 schedule announcement that the conference was growing more concerned about a rare heart condition caused by the virus that had been found in several college athletes.
After a series of emergency meetings this month, it became increasingly likely that the Big Ten was going to pull the plug on a season, with only Nebraska and Iowa reportedly casting a preliminary vote to play. But the formal decision came down Aug. 11, and Friedgen said he would not be surprised if other FBS conferences aside from the Pac-12 follow.
“They’re between a rock and a hard place,” Friedgen, 73, said. “There’s not going to be fans in the stands, so there’s going to be a loss of revenue there. But a lot of that revenue helps support the other sports, so they’re not going to have that. But then if somebody comes down with COVID and has a heart condition, then there’s a liability factor there too, and I don’t think any of the [university] presidents want that to happen.”
The decision complicates matters, though. Athletes who were set to play starting in September must now find ways to work out and stay in shape while remaining COVID-free for the next few months. Safety becomes a concern, too, if leagues attempt to play two seasons in one calendar year.
And Maryland head coach Michael Locksley could have some non-safety issues to deal with as well. The NCAA has not yet ruled on eligibility guidelines for this season, but there’s a possibility that players receive an extra year of eligibility for the missed time. This would cause a roster logjam that impacts recruiting and the team’s scholarship limits.
“Being a head football coach right now, you have a lot more problems than I ever did just outside of football, dealing with everything,” said Friedgen, who amassed a 75-50 record during his 10 seasons helming the Terps.
One of the other critical issues that resurfaced recently was how athletes should be compensated for playing during a pandemic. After a lack of direction from the NCAA, several players banded together via social media and released a list of safety and compensatory demands necessary for playing the season, including forming a players’ association.
That latter point has been a sore spot for the NCAA, which routinely quashes any attempts by players to unionize or receive any sort of profit. Friedgen said he supports players receiving some compensation from their name, image or likeness, but added that it could open a Pandora’s box that might be difficult to control.
“I just don’t know how you do that,” Friedgen said. “You pay your quarterback [compensation from jersey sales] and he’s making money, but the linemen aren’t making money. How long do you think before they start talking to the quarterback, ‘Hey, we need to share the wealth here?’”
But for now, Locksley faces a new challenge after another unexpected turn of events. He has to keep his team prepped, healthy and ready to play despite the uncertainties of the season moving forward.
And Friedgen said this could be a time for Locksley to bring his team closer together in the face of those unknowns, and Maryland could be stronger for it.
“Good coaches find a way to turn this into a positive,” Friedgen said.
For more from Friedgen, listen to the full interview here:
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