Indiana coach Tom Allen completely understood the posts as he scrolled through Twitter on Sunday night, seeing a multitude of college football players writing “#WeWantToPlay.”
“A lot of guys have a strong desire,” Allen said. “They’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”
The grind of a Division I football player is long and arduous, rolling into fall camps that started last week. At IU, they just wrapped up their fourth preseason practice Sunday, getting in a groove with drills, testing, mask-wearing, etcetera.
In their minds, a season is possible. Thus, “#WeWantToPlay.”
“I think guys have realized ‘Hey, we can do this,’” Allen said.
But whether it can be done and whether it will are two different things — one more out of Allen’s control than the other.
Reports began to surface Sunday that the Big Ten was trending toward shutting down athletics this fall. Many prominent players, including Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, were pushing back with “#WeWantToPlay,” letting it be known that they believed the risks were worth the reward.
Allen gets it. But just minutes before the Detroit Free Press released another report Monday morning, saying Big Ten presidents had already voted to shelve the fall sports season, Allen was in the midst of a Zoom session with local media and reiterating a point he’s made all along.
The players may want to play. He may want to coach. But at the end of the day, the recommendations of medical experts, and the trends of COVID-19, will dictate the fate of the season.
“You can say, hey, they want to play. I get it. Sure they want to play,” Allen said. “But that’s why you balance that with ‘We follow the advice of medical experts,’ and that’s really what it has to come down to. … And we are going to follow that lead.
“I’ve said this from the beginning, as long as the doctors say we can do this, we’re going to do it. If they tell us that we can’t, then we won’t. No matter how bad we want to play.”
Until an official announcement comes, Allen and the Hoosiers are proceeding as if there will be a season. The Big Ten, to this point, has just mandated that football teams refrain from getting in pads. But they are still competing in helmets-only drills.
Monday was a previously scheduled day off for IU football, but the Hoosiers were slated to get back on the field Tuesday.
“But once again, I’m not in a position to make these decisions,” Allen said. “I have coach in front of my name, not doctor.”
IU certainly knows all about the complexities of having football during a pandemic. The first 187 tests IU administered for COVID-19 were negative when athletes arrived in mid-June, but football’s voluntary workouts had to be suspended for two weeks in July after a half-dozen players tested positive.
One of those players, freshman offensive lineman Brady Feeney, made a brief visit to the emergency room because of breathing problems. He is back with the team but has been held out of activity as the program continues to monitor potential aftereffects, particularly as it relates to his heart.
As some Hoosiers posted Sunday and into Monday about their desire to play, Feeney added a note of caution.
“Covid-19 is serious,” Feeney tweeted Monday. “I never thought that I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened.”
Feeney added, “I want to play, but I truly believe that we need it to be safe.”
Allen believes the Big Ten and his program are doing everything possible to make it as safe as possible. The last four days, he said, have been “very positive.”
What comes next, Allen didn’t know as of Monday morning. He was asked the obvious question about the prospect of a spring football season, but even that scenario has risks. With the already year-round nature of the sport and training, that approach could be hard on athletes’ bodies.
Allen said “I haven’t let my mind go there,” but then stated he would have “a lot of concerns” about a spring season.
“Like anything else, we are pretty creative individuals, and when your back is against the wall, you have a tendency to find a way to figure it out,” Allen said. “But at the end of the day, it has to be about what’s best for our players and their development and their safety and what makes sense that way.”