Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione answered questions from the media Friday morning regarding the upcoming 2020 fall sports season.
OU football is expected to begin its season against Missouri State on Sept. 12, while other fall sports such as volleyball and soccer remain in limbo due to the NCAA's cancellation of fall championships outside the FBS.
Here's what Castiglione said in his latest media conference:
On the NCAA's cancellations of fall championships excluding football
Thursday evening, NCAA president Mark Emmert said hosting championships for sports excluding football this fall would be impossible. In light of that decision, Castiglione said the Sooners and the Big 12 Conference are still trying to decide if those sports should play regular seasons this fall.
"Everybody heard about (the cancellations) through social media, and so last night and early this morning we’ve been talking amongst ourselves (and) visiting with our coaches. They’re not necessarily surprised because we saw more and more of the conferences either cancel seasons altogether or at least announce an attempt to move it to the spring. ... But the decision to possibly move it to the spring might cause us to rethink playing this fall. ... We’re going to be talking amongst ourselves, not only on campus, but with our conference to try to determine what we should do."
On moral, safety arguments for having fall football, canceling other fall sports
Because of the NCAA's postponement of non-football fall championships, some have questioned the morality and safety of having football in the fall but not holding other competitions. Castiglione said OU is preparing to handle all fall sports, not just football, with the proper safety protocols.
“Our path to safe play includes any of the sports that would have a season or when they have a season. Now if there are mitigating circumstances to having a season this fall, such as the fact that a championship has been taken away, or there’s so few games that will occur, or student-athletes might be looking at the ruling of the NCAA regarding eligibility and trying to determine whether or not they want to play, ... those are mitigating circumstances. ... But we have to realize that there’s still a possibility that there wouldn’t be a championship in the spring. So we could move any of those sports as we want for those reasons but there may not be a guarantee that we get to the spring and there’s a championship. So again, it’s not comfortable for me to sit here without all the details and give you an honest, straight, well-informed answer since I don’t have all that information, but based on what we’re trying to figure out ourselves, that’s just the basic snapshot of some of our conversation."
On student-athlete eligibility if season is canceled
When COVID-19 caused the cancellation of spring sports earlier this year, the NCAA Division I Council gave schools permission to give spring sport athletes an additional year of eligibility. If fall sports suffer the same fate, Castiglione believes the NCAA should replicate its previous decision.
“I would like to see (an eligibility policy) similar to (last spring’s). ... I think the most forgiving, flexible plan would be the best. But I also know that has to be vetted with what that means going forward. We don't want our student-athletes to feel like they're losing (a valuable year of) eligibility. But we also have to take care of the other things that happened along with additional years of eligibility. ... We've allowed our student-athletes to opt out of a workout, opt out of a practice, or if they feel strong about it, opting out for a season — they can (without) any repercussions about their financial aid or students services. But we as a university, we as a conference cannot make the decisions around eligibility. That's an NCAA matter. And so I think we just need to kind of work through this a little more to make it as adaptable for our student-athletes as possible. (We) want them to have all the information they can to make the decisions that they feel strongly about.”
On lowering COVID-19 risks as students, fans return to campus
Oklahoma has yet to report an active COVID-19 case among its football players since its testing began on July 1. Now, as other students begin their return to campus to start the academic year, and as Gaylord Memorial Stadium will house 20,000 fans per game this season, there is concern about OU’s ability to keep its amount of positive cases down.
“The fact that we’ve had few people on campus has played a role in at least minimizing the contact (our team) would have. (But) when they’re not with us, they still can go out and be with other people. (We’re) just going to have to stay disciplined. ... We have a masking policy on our campus. ... We’re going to ask the same thing of our fans if they come to a game, if we’re able to have fans come to a game. There’s going to be a masking requirement. You’re going to have to wear a mask throughout the entire experience. ... I understand that might not be what people want to do. I respect that. I respect that they don't want to go to the game and wear a mask. But if you're going to come to the game in Oklahoma, it's going to be a requirement."
On COVID-19 testing availability
While other conferences and schools have cited a lack of COVID-19 testing availability in opposition toward fall football, Castiglione said OU has been fortunate enough to be able to acquire the tests it needs and get results quickly.
"(Our testing has) been robust, but it's been a practice that we can more or less guarantee that it's following the protocols that we've set. We know some of our testing centers are are facing some challenges here and there ... but we've worked with them and we've been able to manage the type of ongoing testing and return of results that meet our own protocol thresholds. ... You have to be vigilant on ensuring that you can continue to provide the support to these protocols, and whether it's here, or around our conference, or somewhere else, if we aren't able to do that, that would certainly figure into decisions we make about going forward. But so far, (we) appreciate all of the medical staff on our campus, our team physicians, and those here in our area that have been able to work with us — and us with them — in dealing with our testing, the test processing and any contact-tracing that would need to take place if we find a positive test."