The Stanford football team does not know when it will return to its home in Santa Clara County.
In a news conference from an undisclosed hotel in Seattle on Wednesday, Cardinal head coach David Shaw laid out the available details. Last Friday, his administration was informed that Santa Clara County — home to Stanford, San Jose State and the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers — would institute a three-week ban on professional, college and high school sports in an attempt to smother the spread of COVID-19. By Saturday evening, Stanford’s staff was organizing a list of options to present to the school’s administration.
In order to continue its season with a game Saturday at Washington, the 1-2 Cardinal could practice in a nearby county, uproot their entire program to a separate location in California, or arrive in Seattle early and prepare at the road site.
Ultimately, after Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and UW president Ana Mari Cauce discussed the matter, they opted for the latter — and the team touched down in Seattle on Tuesday, before practicing at the Dempsey Indoor Center later that evening.
“We had no intention of practicing at the University of Washington (on Tuesday),” Shaw said. “But on short notice, trying to find a high school that was available, we just couldn’t do it on one-day notice or a day-and-a-half notice. So Washington said, ‘Hey, you don’t have a place to practice. We’ll give you a place to practice for Tuesday night.’
“We’re set for the rest of the week, going to various other locations.”
Wednesday, Shaw declined to divulge where those other locations were. But it’s clear — in college football’s most unprecedented year — that “business as usual” is an increasingly unrealistic expectation.
And yet, despite the challenges, the games go on — and the goal, Shaw said, is to “relentlessly adapt.”
“I say this all the time, because someone told me this a long time ago and it’s proven to be true: student-athletes are more resilient than we are,” Shaw said. “We have so many anxieties and worries and all these things, and a high percentage of the student-athletes will look and say, ‘I get to go stay in a hotel and play football. All right, let’s go. You’re going to feed me and give me a place to lift weights and allow me to enjoy myself when I have some free time and stay within the rules? Hey, let’s go do it.’
“Like I said, practice was great (on Tuesday). I gave them some advice that my mother gave me a long time ago — and one of the things that I live by — which is no matter how difficult the decision that you have, once you make a decision you go forward with enthusiasm and do it to the best of your ability. That’s just where we are.”
“Where they are,” unfortunately, will fluctuate wildly from week to week. The Dec. 12 game against Oregon State — which was scheduled to be played at Stanford — has since shifted to Corvallis, Ore., where the Cardinal will likely travel after playing at UW. And, as everyone else in the Pac-12, Stanford is unaware of who it will play (or where) on the weekend of Dec. 19.
All things considered, there’s a lot the team doesn’t know — like, for instance, who’s footing the bill for what Shaw called “an away life for the next couple weeks.”
“Regardless of anybody who’s a nonbeliever in intercollegiate athletics, this decision was not made because we can make money or the conference can make money,” said Shaw, who added that his team receives COVID-19 tests eight to nine times a week and has not had a positive test in months. “This decision was, hey, do our student-athletes want to do this and transplant their lives for two weeks, possibly longer?
“Since they said yes, we said, ‘OK, we’ll make it happen.’ So as far as who’s writing all the checks, I couldn’t even tell you that right now.”
But before we go further: they didn’t all say yes. Shaw acknowledged that “a few” football players opted not to take the trip — including fullback Jay Symonds, who would have otherwise contributed for the Cardinal. He respected and accepted those decisions and added that “the national opt-out policy is very well and alive here.”
The families of staff members and players with long-term injuries also didn’t make the trip. Stanford did bring more than the typically allotted 75-player travel party, because the Cardinal is essentially uprooting its entire program.
Wednesday, the players who opted into this seemingly indefinite excursion were scheduled to wake up and immediately receive a COVID-19 test, followed by breakfast. They’d then attend meetings and have a window to retrieve their equipment that was washed following practice the previous night. Then they’d eat lunch, change into practice attire, ride a socially distanced bus to a nearby high school, practice, ride the bus back, eat dinner, work on homework, grab a snack, go to bed and start the whole process over.
All things considered, it doesn’t feel fair to call this another “new normal.”
But, for this team, in this week, it’s the required routine.
“This pandemic is relentless. It’s brutal. It’s very, very difficult,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, those of us that coach any sport in college will say it over and over again, and there are people out there that don’t understand it. The dedication and effort of these young people academically, athletically, socially … for us to be in the middle of a pandemic and we haven’t had a single positive on our team, knock on wood, in months, means that our student-athletes are working really hard because they want to play. So I think we need to work just as hard to give them that opportunity, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Oh, and then all it has to do is take advantage of the opportunity — to beat 3-0 Washington (No. 22 College Football Playoff rankings; No. 23 Associated Press) inside Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to play the game that we love on national TV against a very good Washington football team,” Shaw said. “So for me, hey, let’s get there and let’s prepare and let’s go play with a great attitude, a mentality, and do our best to win.”