Locksley, Players Show Support for Existing Health Measures as Fall Season Called into Quetion
One preseason practice might be all Maryland gets this month as the future of the Big Ten fall season was called into question coming out of the weekend. With conflicting reports about the Big Ten’s decision on Monday, Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported the Big Ten is “now considering delaying the start after league presidents met with ADs on Monday” as the Big 12 and Pac-12 closely monitor the conference’s decision. An internal league vote among Big Ten officials over the weekend yielded a 12-2 vote against playing a fall season with Iowa and Nebraska the lone two schools voting to play in 2020. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost told reporters on Monday that the school is “prepared to look for other options” if the Big Ten does cancel plans for the fall as schools will await news from the conference on Tuesday.
For Maryland, head coach Mike Locksley reinforced his belief last Friday in the guidelines previously laid out by the Big Ten to ensure proper health and safety measures are in place ahead of preseason camp. “I’m a big believer in how we operate on the rules today. We have a clear-cut, concise plan for how we need to operate to make it safe and healthy for our players and staff,” Locksley told reporters last week. “Starts with one, the mask part. It’s obviously going to be very different. Anybody participating will have some form of mouth-covering, whether the plastic shield over the facemask, gator over the mouth as well as masks underneath the helmets in addition to the face shields we provide on each helmet. Those obviously are different are part of the rules for this year is every member of the team on the field or sideline must have some type of facial covering, be it the helmet covering we provide on all of our facemasks.”
Maryland’s current practice layout separates the position groups from one another, an existing measure that falls in line with social distancing efforts as programs work to minimize all risks and exposure. “We’re pretty fortunate that how we practice kind of densifies and helps with some of the social distancing things we need to provide because very seldom are we on one field with the whole team. we two spot a lot of things already and that already in itself gives us some safe social distancing protocols from that standpoint. Where the challenges have been for us is moving people and doing the everyday tasks, for instance, the locker room. Our players haven’t had the ability to go into the locker room until today, we have to go into the locker room in shifts, different groups or pods as we call them. Go in, shower, get dressed and leave. Next group comes in after cleansing, they shower, get dressed and leave so it’s about organizing the movement of big groups or big pods to keep the social distancing guidelines in place as well to try to risk reduce as much as we possibly can.”
Those measures in place have instilled belief in those players that have opted in. As pessimism for a future fall season lingers heading into Tuesday, players across the country took to social media over the weekend into Monday to reaffirm their belief and desire for an upcoming season. The counterargument has centered around trusting the existing procedures in place to ensure safety for all student—athletes as they recognize the risks once they leave team facilities. According to senior running back Jake Funk, accountability and discipline have become a common theme inside Maryland’s locker room to ensure that safety comes to fruition.
“I personally feel safe. At the end of the day, all the protocols in the world, you can have all of them but if you’re not living right off the field, it doesn’t matter,” Funk added. “The protocols can’t protect you when you’re away from the facility, so while I’m here at the facility, I feel as safe as can be. Ultimately there’s a responsibility on our end as players to be able to live right off the field and protect ourselves on the field so we don’t bring the disease into our facility, so it goes hand-in-hand.”
Concerns with COVID-19 was the main catalyst in players opting out across the country, but unanswered questions in regard to eligibility impact among others have filled the air with doubt as scholarship limit questions heading into 2021 becomes a bigger focal point. Locksley acknowledged how those unanswered questions have lumped into the decisions for Maryland’s six opt outs announced on Friday. “There’s been a wide array of concerns, obviously COVID sits in the forefront in a lot of thought processes. Different players for different reasons have been affected or have issues with COVID or have fears of COVID, but there’s a lot of different reasons. There’s eligibility concerns that come into play, that’s a huge, huge question for a lot of our players that have opted out and even for some of those that are in right now because the questions are what if a season starts and it gets shut down, do I lose my eligibility for that year, how many games do I retain my eligibility if I get quarantined and have to miss 14 days. These are all questions that haven’t been answered administratively not here on campus but collectively a concern across the country. Those things have come into play, you also have guys that for whatever reason, via the COVID, playing time, where they fit and, in an effort, to save eligibility.”
Senior safety Antwaine Richardson opted in for Maryland’s 2020 season as he hopes to put his final season of college football together ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. Richardson admitted there was little question in regard to his status for the upcoming season, but he understands and supports his teammates in their individual decisions.
“Everybody has their reasons on why they opted out. They're still my family, I'll still text them every day and just stay connected. I know it's a tough time for them right now and they had their reasons why they decided to opt out. I give all my support to them and they still my family to this day.” The senior safety also explained why he felt it was the right decision for him to play this season. “One, I do want to play football and I feel safe because I'm here today opting in to go out there and get ready for fall camp. Just believing the NCAA, the different conferences will find more guidelines and procedures we have to follow because at the end of the day, we can go out there and play football but if the team is not disciplined enough to follow these rules then maybe the season might get cut short. We never know, we're living day to day and I decided to opt in because I want to play football and feel safe.”