Miners Continue Planning for Fall Football Season Despite ‘Fluid’ Situation
College athletics has a lot of unanswered questions before moving toward the fall football season but, as of now, UTEP is planning on playing football in 2020.
Director of Athletics Jim Senter and head coach Dana Dimel addressed the media on Thursday to provide updates on the team given the schedule shake-up, positive COVID-19 cases, fans attending the Sun Bowl and more updates surrounding fall athletics.
Senter and Dimel formally made the announcement that they will face Texas on Sept. 12.
"We're most appreciative that UT is playing us," Senter said. "All the pieces kind of fell together. We get to play a marquee program from the state of Texas and it's a significant payday for us which has a significant impact on our budget. It's really important to us and we think we'll have a great game against them."
With or without fans at Memorial Stadium, Senter doesn't feel like the $1.4 million payout for the Miners will be impacted by Texas' ruling for fans in attendance.
This news comes during a rather hectic week for college football, where conferences have been canceling or postponing the fall football season. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 were the first major leagues to forgo the fall season. Similarly, Group of 5 conferences like the Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference and Mid-American Conference decided to postpone play until the spring.
As far as Conference USA goes, the plan is to play as scheduled. Old Dominion is the only team in the conference to decide to suspend fall sports so far. UTEP's football schedule was trimmed to nine games on Thursday when NMSU announced they would postpone football due to COVID-19 player health and safety concerns along with New Mexico travel restrictions. UTEP has now seen non-conference games against Texas Tech (Sept. 5), Nevada (Sept. 12) and NM State (Sept. 26) fall through.
Dimel believes that the Texas game on Sept. 12 will still be enough time to get his team ready for the current season opener.
"Gone against them multiple times as an offensive coordinator and as a head coach," Dimel said. "If we open on (Sept.) 12th, it would be an absolutely normal timeframe. That's 28 days where we would have our acclimatization practice. We would be right on schedule with 28 days of preparation leading up to our first ball game against UT."
This past Sunday, the day UTEP's first padded practice was set to take place, UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter and head coach Dana Dimel announced the postponement of fall camp due to four players testing positive for COVID-19. Since then, the team was retested on Thursday and is awaiting results. The plan, unless there are more positive cases, is to practice Saturday morning.
As far as fans attending games this fall, Senter said, "we are planning on having fans in our home opener." In addition, due to capacity restrictions set by Gov. Greg Abbott, Senter is targeting having anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 fans in attendance. He mentioned face-coverings for fans along with maintaining proper health and safety protocols for all patrons entering the Sun Bowl.
Testing has also been a huge subject across college sports this fall. UTEP will have on-campus testing provided to the students. Per NCAA guidelines, programs need to test for COVID-19 72 hours before game day. The Miners plan to instill a Sunday-Wednesday-Friday testing model. C-USA has not yet announced a formal testing format for the programs, per Senter.
UTEP's season will start on Sept. 12 against Texas unless the Miners are able to get another game scheduled before then. Senter says that he is still working toward filling a 12-game schedule. He mentioned speaking with programs from the Southland Conference and several of the independents (BYU, Liberty and Army) for another possible addition this fall.
"As I am looking at rescheduling some games, we have to look to see if the dates match up, see a home-and-home, all of those things are on the table right now," Senter said. "We have about two or three teams very interested so in the next 72 hours, we might sign a contract to play. There's still a lot of unknowns."
"It will be important for us to play other games as we get ready for conference games," Dimel said. "I hope these games come to fruition.
Other fall sports including cross country, soccer and volleyball have been instructed to continue to practice as scheduled until further notice.
"We continue to tell our fall sports that you keep doing what you do until we tell you that you can't anymore. Continue to prepare, train, plan on taking your trips just as scheduled," Senter said.