A Texas cheerleader runs onto the field with a giant Longhorns flag before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

BEVO BEAT Football

Football in 2020? Texas officials planning, ‘hope’ to reopen campus this fall — for now

School officials release open letter saying no decision has been made, but athletics can’t happen if students don’t return

Posted April 22nd, 2020

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No university can field a football team without students. For those looking for any positive sign about the 2020 football season, one finally came from Texas.

School officials released a carefully-crafted letter on Wednesday that said they “hope to reopen the campus” this fall. However, no final decision has been made and likely won’t be made until June.

“Now, as we near the final weeks of spring semester, the university is looking to the future and evaluating options for how we will teach, research, learn and operate during the fall,” the letter said. “We expect to announce the university’s plans for the fall semester by the end of June.”

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UT’s letter was co-signed by outgoing president Gregory L. Fenves and interim president designated Jay Hartzell. It did not specifically address fall athletics.

“When will the Longhorn football team be able to take the field at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium again?,” the letter said. “These and other questions are being evaluated by a university-wide task force to assess our operations for the fall semester.”

The letter stated that students have a fall deadline of April 27 to register.

“I do believe we’re going to have football back in the fall,” Del Conte told the American-Statesman earlier this month. “I do believe people want that certainty, and what football means to the University of Texas, to the University of Alabama and places like that, I think that’s going to happen.”

Every scenario, Del Conte said, was “just a what-if game.” Big 12 officials have quietly talked about everything from a normal 12-game season, an abbreviated season playing only conference games and even starting in the spring semester.

“You got to prepare for whatever comes down the pike, and whatever situation comes down the pike, we’ll play that out to its fullest,” Del Conte said.

When the pandemic began, Texas coach Tom Herman told the Statesman his advice to fans was to “stay engaged.” The Longhorns’ social media team kicked into overdrive with posts and videos designed to remind fans about the gameday experience.

Coaches also tweeted a unifying message aimed at healthcare workers. “I stand with my colleagues at @UTAustin and America’s leading research universities as they take the fight to Covid-19 in our labs and hospitals,” men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart tweeted.

Approximately 30,000 people were expected to fill into Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday for the football team’s annual Orange-White scrimmage. However, that event was cancelled weeks ago.

UT coaches have been holding Zoom video calls with their players twice a week, and the Horns have been working out on their own at home. The coaching staff sent players a box with workout gear and nutritional supplements, as allowed by the Big 12 and NCAA.

“I’m very optimistic in the sense that we have a lot of guys coming back that know what it takes to prepare for a season,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger said last week.

Del Conte has not announced any staff furloughs or layoffs, mostly because he doesn’t have to do anything yet. UT’s fiscal year ends on Aug. 31. Other schools on different fiscal timetables have announced cuts this month, though.

Iowa State, Wake Forest and Boise State have all announced some kind of temporary financial cuts.

Texas is one of the most well-heeled athletic programs in the country. It’s self-sufficient and does not rely on state funds. Still, the Horns are dependent on football ticket revenue — like all major athletic powerhouses.

UT needs to play football just like everyone else. At least with Wednesday’s letter, the Horns know that those in the Tower are eager, too.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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