The Washington Huskies’ fall football season ended before their practice did.
In the middle of a team walk-through Tuesday, UW coach Jimmy Lake heard the Pac-12 would officially postpone its fall sports seasons. When the practice ended, he “brought everybody up and really commended them on how they’ve handled this thing since March.”
Unsurprisingly, Lake said his players were “very, very disappointed. But I also think our medical team did a good job of explaining the reasons why we were postponing the season.”
Those reasons — namely, the continued prevalence of COVID-19, lack of point-of-care testing and lingering long-term cardiac concerns — also led the Huskies’ first-year head coach to a definitive conclusion.
“This was the right decision. This was the right decision,” Lake repeated in a Zoom call with reporters. “The No. 1 thing is the health and safety of our players and our staff. And right now, there’s way too many questions than answers. I don’t want our team to be guinea pigs, or our staff to be guinea pigs. If things are not going to be safe, we need to err on the side of caution. I know that is what our medical advisory group did for the Pac-12, and that’s what happened with the Big Ten.
“I’m just extremely grateful that we have a bunch of smart people that are able to navigate us through this. I know when the time is right they will tell us we can play and we’ll be ready to go.”
Lake’s hoping the time will be right next spring. He proposed an eight-game spring season, followed by a delayed 12-game fall campaign that begins in October and concludes in February 2022.
For now, though, UW will transition into voluntary, small-group, strength and conditioning workouts until Aug. 28, then take a three-week break before fall classes begin.
It isn’t the fall that anyone associated with college football hoped for or expected. But when it’s over, Lake hopes to have a more physically and mentally prepared football team.
“I think our guys are going to be grateful for every opportunity when this thing is all said and over with,” Lake said. “They’re going to be extremely grateful that they get to play this great game. I also think they’re going to be extremely grateful for how we kept them safe and healthy throughout this pandemic. I think they know that we’ve had their best interest at heart.
“I know also what they’re going to learn is how tough they are and how they’ve been able to battle through adversity and had their dreams crushed of not being able to play a season in the fall of 2020. We are going to be stronger and more resilient after coming out of this.”
UW launches ‘Huskies All In’ fundraising campaign
In a letter to UW sports fans Friday, athletic director Jen Cohen wrote that “the impact of COVID-19 on our budget remains unclear but we could face losses up to $70 million.”
To survive as a department, they’re going to need some significant help.
Which is why UW introduced a comprehensive fundraising campaign called “Huskies All In.”
Included in the campaign is a set of three options for those who have already purchased season tickets for the 2020 football season. Fans can choose to 1) convert their season-ticket purchase to a fully tax-deductible gift to Huskies All In, 2) credit their purchase towards the 2021 season, or 3) request a full refund.
In May, Cohen reported in a presentation to UW’s board of regents that 87% of season tickets had already been renewed ($21 million). In the 2018-19 fiscal year — the last cycle totally unaffected by COVID-19 — UW reported $133.8 million in total athletic revenue, with football directly responsible for $84 million (and $25.3 million stemming from football ticket sales).
Even if UW maintained the entirety of its season-ticket sales, that would only be a fraction of the revenue loss associated with a fall without football.
“We need you guys now more than ever,” Lake said, speaking to UW football fans. “We obviously did not see this [pandemic] coming. This [Huskies All In campaign] will help us continue to support our student-athletes and our athletic program.”
UW d-lineman Sama Paama retires
Lake announced that redshirt freshman defensive lineman Sama Paama has decided to retire from football for personal reasons.
“It was great getting to know him and we respect his decision and we wish him and his family nothing but the best,” Lake said.
A 6-foot-4, 347-pound redshirt freshman from Honolulu, Paama was the most physically intriguing wild card in a 2019 class that included four highly touted defensive linemen — Paama, Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Noa Ngalu. Paama was ranked as a four-star prospect, the No. 5 player in Hawaii and the No. 25 defensive tackle nationally by 247Sports.
Without Paama, UW has eight scholarship defensive linemen on its roster: seniors Levi Onwuzurike and Josiah Bronson, redshirt sophomores Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam Taimani and Draco Bynum, and redshirt freshmen Tuitele, Bandes and Ngalu. Defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe did not sign a defensive lineman in the 2020 class, but he already has three verbal commits — Voi Tunuufi, Kuao Peihopa and Siaosi Finau — in 2021
Recruiting questions and answers
On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council recommended to its board of directors that eligibility should be preserved for any player who opts out or participates in 50% or less of their team’s competitions in a postponed football season played in the spring.
But if seniors make previously unexpected returns, how would that affect a program’s ability to sign a full recruiting class?
While the legislation has not officially passed, Lake said he expects that UW — which has 13 scholarship seniors — will be allowed the typical 85 scholarships in 2021, plus an additional 13. He added, “I do think that’s going to be fair.”
When asked if Pac-12 programs will be at a recruiting disadvantage if the SEC, ACC and Big 12 carry on with fall seasons, Lake responded that “the Big Ten and the Pac-12 almost immediately at the same time announced that we were going to postpone the season, and I believe all three other conferences are going to follow suit in due time.”
The more pressing recruiting concerns may actually come with the 2022 class.
“In 2022 and beyond, I think that’s what’s going to be affected,” said Lake, who added that he still believes there will be an early signing period in December. “Because we’re not able to watch these guys develop, who are the next up-and-comers in the recruiting states that we recruit out of? There’s no high school football this fall and it’s going to be really hard to watch these guys continue to develop. And at the same time, it’s going to be hard for them to come see us and see what we’re about if we’re not playing games.”