After Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy made headlines calling for a May 1 return of spring football, Chip Kelly took a different stance.
“We, as a human race, need to get a grasp of it,” the UCLA football coach said. “Whatever we can do personally to prevent the spread, it is our responsibility to do that.”
Kelly and the rest of the UCLA staff have been working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak, which forced the Bruins to shut down their spring practices on March 12. UCLA had only completed three of its 15 planned team sessions before inclement weather suspended the March 10 practice.
The Bruins were scheduled to participate in five weeks of practice this spring and typically run another five weeks of sessions from July through August before the season. Kelly said regardless of when UCLA’s 2020 schedule starts, his team will need six weeks of practice to get in shape.
“Our coaches are monitoring our players just to make sure they’re on the proper routine,” Kelly said. “Players are working out on their own, wherever they may be. And I would say 75 to 80% of our players – and maybe even higher – are at home right now.”
Kelly said the staff has had to work around several speed bumps in the process, such as players who don’t have the living situations or technology to adequately take classes and fulfill workouts.
When UCLA does get the green light from health experts, the government and the university to resume preparations for its 2020 campaign, the next question becomes, “Who gets to watch?”
The MLB and other leagues have already opened discussions about how to run seasons without spectators in the stands. Kelly, however, said he views that scenario as unfair to the student-athletes.
“If it’s not safe for fans to attend the games, then I don’t know why it would be safe for players to participate in the games,” Kelly said.
In a poll published by Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business on Thursday, 72% of respondents said they would not return to sporting events before a coronavirus vaccine is made widely available. The poll’s sample size of 762 has drawn criticism, but 61% of the subjects who self-identified as sports fans said they wouldn’t go back to stadiums either.
President Donald Trump told professional and collegiate commissioners that sports could likely resume play with full stands by August or September, but some medical experts and media members are forecasting a complete shutdown of sports for the remainder of 2020.
Kelly said he wanted to air on the side of caution, and that he took away an important lesson from his recent conversation with 84-year-old former Indiana coach and ESPN analyst, Lee Corso.
“(Corso)’s comment to me was, “The game of football’s not more important than one person’s life,'” Kelly said. “I think he’s 100% correct and I agree with him 100%. So this is a lot bigger than intercollegiate athletics.”