Positive Tests Holding for COVID-19, Holder Sees All Possibilities, but Guarantees Scholarships
STILLWATER -- While many of the parades and fireworks displays celebrating the Fourth of July are cancelled, this weekend still represents the most crucial threat to college football programs and progress toward the upcoming season starting on time the first weekend in September. Players are going to leave campus, they are going to socialize, and they most likely won't always be wearing masks, if they wear them at all. They will definitely be getting closer than six-feet to some they are with. You can count on that. I also think you can count on some more positive tests coming off the holiday weekend.
After July 4th, if schools stick to the NCAA schedule, the six-week plan approved to head into the season, there are no breaks, a day off here and there is it.
Oklahoma State athletic director and vice-president for athletics Mike Holder during his Friday Zoom conference with media that was scheduled primarily to discuss the investigation into the Cowboys football program and the player's protest into head coach Mike Gundy got into other topics. The protest starting with Chuba Hubbard following the Twitter post that showed Gundy wearing an One America News t-shirt on a fishing excursion to Lake Texoma, but the investigation revealed players wanted more of a relationship with Gundy.
The extra questioning and expanded topics migrated to the coronavirus and COVID-19. Multiple schools have had trouble keeping players negative for the virus. Texas had a bunch, Kansas State had to stop training and workouts. Kansas just did the same thing this week because of a flurry of positive tests.
Oklahoma State was in earlier than a lot of schools, but they seemingly have done well, even better than most schools as Holder was asked for the latest on positive tests from Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman.
“The last information I had was that I think we’ve had 14 positive tests," Holder recounted. "I think 12 (our information was 14 football athletes) of those have been football players. Two other athletes I think were on the baseball team. I’m really pleased with the task force we put together under the leadership of our deputy AD Chad Weiberg. We’re blessed beyond comprehension (to have) the relationship and partnership we have with Oklahoma Health Sciences in Tulsa. They’ve really been great advisors and helped us execute our (testing) plan."
In fact, it has been the staff from the Oklahoma Health Sciences in Tulsa that is part of Oklahoma State University that has come over and conducted the testing. The huge advantage is having a testing lab on campus to get a quick turnaround in the testing.
With the virus kicking back up with increasing numbers that are, in part, due to expanded testing, but also the perception that people are getting more confident or more brazen in social activities the big question is will we have football on time in the fall?
“As far as whether we’re going to play football or soccer this fall, our intent is to gear up and get ready," Holder said of Oklahoma State. "If we’re not fortunate enough to play team sports this fall, then we’ll get ready to play the winter sports. If for some reason we can’t play those, we’ll be ready to play in the spring. And if we don’t get to play those, we’ll be ready for fall sports again in 2021."
Yes, but what about the unpopular, but steady suggestions back in the spring that, if necessary, the football season could be pushed back and played in the spring?
“Absolutely. Anything is possible," Holder answered. "It may not be preferred, but anything is possible. Our athletes just want to play. They came here to compete, and we want to give them the chance to win the conference championship (and) national championship. Hopefully, they’re dreaming that big.”
This Oklahoma State team is dreaming that big. They have been since wide receiver Tylan Wallace and then All-American running back Chuba Hubbard announced they were returning for this season. Both are NFL Draft prospects, which makes the two most explosive offensive players for the Cowboys offense questionable for a spring season kickoff.
Oklahoma State is much better off with a fall, on time, kickoff to the season. For those that are thinking the player and Gundy issues complicate the Pokes chances on the field might want to re-think that opinion. Gundy is a big proponent of no distractions and this has certainly been a major one. However, a distraction that involves everybody and potentially can improve the mood or spirit of everybody on the team, can be a good distraction, one that pulls the team together.
That remains to be seen, but for the next week or so, the players are still going to be most around strength coach and and assistant athletic director for performance Rob Glass and his staff. Glass is a steadying influence and the coaches has kept up their Zoom meetings with players and Gundy has jumped in meeting with players and groups of players.
Holder injected something that is obviously very important to him. As a former golf coach, he was sympathetic immediately in March when the NCAA cancelled the spring sports, golf being one of those. In the days just after that happened, Holder was emphatic that Oklahoma State would honor scholarship commitments to athletes that lost their season and could come back.
“No matter what happens in the next eight, 10, 12 months, (and) no matter what revenue looks like for our athletic department, we will honor every single scholarship," Holder threw into his answer about football season. "We will honor every scholarship for those seniors who had their (2020) spring seasons interrupted and want to come back. We understand our priorities here – educating young people. Our mission can still be executed, even if you don’t get to play games on Saturdays or Wednesdays. We’re still educating young people and developing the next generation of leaders. We’ll still train them. We’ll still coach them up. We’ll still strategize with them. We’ll still try to give some structure to their daily lives.”
Which if the COVID-19 stays at the numbers we are currently seeing or increases won't be easy. Structure is a mobile target in these days and times. You need no further evidence of that than talk of a spring football season.