P.J. Fleck has issued another warning on how COVID-19 can disrupt the college football season.
Maybe it’s not really necessary, what with upheaval seen in the sport just this week: Two Southeastern Conference games set for Saturday were postponed (Missouri-Vanderbilt, LSU-Florida), and Alabama coach Nick Saban announced he has contracted the novel coronavirus.
That brings the number of delayed or canceled games to roughly 30 and the amount of infected head coaches to seven.
“It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride,” Fleck said when his KFAN radio show aired Wednesday. “We’re talking like a loopy-loop rollercoaster, not just the one in the kiddie land.”
So, the players and staff No. 24 Minnesota takes the field with against No. 19 Michigan at TCF Bank Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 figures to, at least, be less than 100 percent and maybe unrecognizable at some positions.
Fleck said he told his team Tuesday: “You might be on scout team today and next week against somebody, you might be starting. That is the fact that we are all going to have to deal with in 2020.
Fleck said Tuesday when his KFAN radio show was recorded that it can change quickly. “We are taking it one minute at a time. You can have your entire football team one day and then 10 minutes later have two positive tests, and now they are gone for a few games. That is how fast it changes.”
Fleck, who doesn’t often share information on injuries, said he will remain tight-lipped about player availability this season.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you our roster and what we’re doing and who’s missing and who’s going to be out and who won’t be here,” Fleck said. “I’m not doing that. I’m not doing that at all. But I will say it is going to be an interesting year.”
When a Big Ten player tests positive for COVID-19, they are out for 21 days, according to protocols the conference set Sept. 16. So, if that happens during the season, they could miss up to three games in a nine-week season.
Gophers star receiver Rashod Bateman said he had COVID-19 during the summer but has fully recovered. He is the only publicly known case on the Gophers' team.
If the Big Ten program has a positivity rate of greater than five percent, and the community’s positive rate is greater than 7.5 percent, protocols call for practices and games to be called off for a minimum of seven days.
“If those tests are positive, then you are out for three weeks; that’s really half the season,” Fleck said on KFAN. “There are a lot of key positions you are constantly building depth just in case. We’ve been somewhat lucky so far. I say somewhat because it hasn’t been 100 percent.
“But you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. I think that is the worrisome part of 2020 … you just don’t know.”
A potential compounding issue is that if a Big Ten program has to call off a game, there is no window to make it up. When the Big Ten announced its return in mid-September, they set up a schedule that runs nine consecutive weeks from Oct. 23-24 and finishes Dec. 19, one day before the College Football Playoff field is announced.