The sports world is currently at a standstill due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has brought everyday life as we know it to a screeching halt.
All professional organizations, including the NCAA, have suspended all league events for the foreseeable future. Football season is just under five months away from kicking off, but important decisions are rapidly approaching.
Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer went on the Paul Finebaum Show Tuesday afternoon to discuss the possible decisions that are hanging over the head of college football decision-makers.
“This is April, it’s hard to look out and speculate,” Fulmer explained. “But I am optimistic that we’ll have football this fall and all of our fall sports this fall.
“So much depends on the next couple of months and how that looks and how we get through it. But none of us sit here and have the answer, and somebody would be lying to you if they said they did. We all want it to turn out well and us all get back to normal, but there’s those challenges in front of us, and this is unprecedented.”
Fulmer went on to recall September of 2001 when the former National Champion winning head coach was still leading the Vols. As a result of 9/11, Tennessee’s trip to Florida was pushed to the end of the regular season on Dec. 1. The Vols didn’t play until Sept. 29 of that month after playing Arkansas on Sept. 8 due to the circumstances.
To Fulmer, the decision on what to do about the 2020 college football season “is just as tough, if not tougher.”
“It’s an invisible enemy that you can’t find all the time,” Fulmer said. “Our country was in a state of shock for a period of time, and we came through it on the other side even stronger, so I think we’ll do the same here.”
College athletic departments all throughout the country are facing financial difficulties and uncertainty due to the pandemic. Many sports at a university rely on the football team’s generated revenue to keep their team afloat. If football isn’t played this year, many programs could be at risk of being cut.
“Everybody is dealing with that right now, all of the what-ifs,” Fulmer said. “You want to be a good steward and look at everything you need to. Fortunately we have good financial people around us here, and we can focus on what we need to focus on, and that’s our kids and their nutrition, their lives, their families, their academics, all those things that are important. Those are things we can physically do something about.
“To worry and speculate, I’m not saying not look at or plan, but to completely worry here in April about not playing football in September, that’s a little premature I think.”
Fulmer admitted that Tennessee has had discussions internally about how much time football players would need in order to be ready for football in September. He’s also held that same discussion with fellow athletic directors.
Ultimately, Fulmer stuck to his primary message during his appearance on Finebaum, yielding to the medical experts and claiming it’s too early to speculate what will happen with the upcoming football season.
“There’s just all kinds of dynamics out there that we have to deal with,” Fulmer said. “It’s a really important thing from a safety standpoint to get a handle on what we need to do to even start talking about when you can practice. It’s certainly several weeks.”
Tennessee’s 2020 season opener remains scheduled for Sept. 5 against Charlotte inside of Neyland Stadium.