Fans and teams alike spent the summer wondering if we would see a college football season in 2020. Professional sports found a way to play games in a variety of ways: the NBA put together a bubble in Orlando, Florida, and Major League Baseball chose to host baseball games within their own ballparks while the Division Series, League Championship Series, and World Series were played in designated host cities.
The NCAA became tribal, conferences weighing in with different opinions and doing their best to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic and protect their conference members. Meanwhile, college football programs were adapting to the ever-changing landscape of a social distancing world, working in small position groups, and doing constant testing to prepare for the potential of a 2020 season.
Once the dust settled and schedules were made, some normalcy returned for fans, but players everywhere were in the trenches following strict protocols for the opportunity to have some resemblance of a college football season.
Add the COVID-19 guidelines with the trials and tribulations of a typical season, and mental fatigue became apparent towards the end of the season, with a handful of programs voluntarily opting out of bowl games.
West Virginia head coach Neal Brown was concerned from the outset of the pandemic about his player's mental health, and he stressed the point in the back half of the season, sharing the fact that players had not been home since June.
However, now is the time to enjoy the fruits of their diligence and labor. West Virginia earned a Liberty Bowl invitation with a 5-4 record and Brown gave us a glimpse of what a bowl practice schedule looked like last year, despite the team not qualifying for a bowl game and reiterated it during the Liberty Bowl press conference. While he treats a bowl invitation as a reward, the goal remains the same: win the game.
“I think that when you talk about the bowl for me, the goal number one is to win the game, the second thing is you wanna create a rewarding, memorable experience. Bowl games are different than regular football games for me. I think you have to treat them as a reward, whether that's gifts or whether that's experiences, whatever. But you want them to be memorable,” said Brown.
Naturally, the pandemic has caused most activities associated with the bowl game to be canceled. To help normalize the experience for players and create those positive experiences for players, West Virginia got a little creative so players could still have a bowl experience. One activity featured the Mountaineers going to Wisp Ski Resort to do a little tubing.
“Most of the time, it involves an extended stay at a destination. That's not the case this time, so we wanted to create our own kind of experiences," said Brown. "We went to Wisp; it was fun, I’d never done that. I can tell who went who did not go the fastest. If y’all seen the video, that was me. I went about as slow as you can go, and that's about my speed on that kinda stuff. But our guys had a blast, they had a blast, and I’m sure y’all seen a bunch of videos with them going down, and we're gonna do something else this week, but it's just you wanna create memories, you know what I mean? I mean, this is the last game of the 2020 season, the last game that this group of staff and players are gonna be together, and I think you need to create some memories outside of the game as part of this experience.”
While it is normal for players to reap the benefits of bowl activities, it is good to see programs invest in players that risked more and sacrificed so much more than a typical season, forgoing social and family events, to provide us an escape for a few hours a week to cut loose and have some fun.
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