BOISE, Idaho — Just before the Boise State University football program was set to open the 2021 fall practice schedule, we're getting a stark reminder that college football still isn't completely removed from the circumstances that wrecked the 2020 season.
"The biggest opponent we'll have this year is making sure we handle our COVID protocols," Boise State head football coach Andy Avalos said during his press conference on Tuesday morning. "It's still a very real situation."
"As much as we want to all move on to whatever the new normal is," he added, "we're not there yet."
The next words out of Avalos' mouth seemed anticipatory, as if he was foreseeing a circumstance that would eventually reveal itself.
"There are certain protocols, and again I apologize for those up front, but those are the things that we have to do," Avalos said, "so that our football program can continue to be safe, grow, and thrive everyday."
Reality of those protocols arrived from Boise State Athletics just hours later in the form of an email:
"Out of an abundance of caution, and due to positive cases of COVID-19 within Boise State athletics programs, the department is taking the precautionary step of closing all practices to guests - including media - at this time.
"Citing the health and and safety of our student-athletes, and preparing for a successful 2021-22 athletics campaign, is our primary concern."
The notice came less than five hours after a detailed email stating media members, specifically, would have access to the team when fall camp begins on Wednesday.
It is worth noting that the team will still practice.
This isn't the first time that Avalos has expressed concern about his team's circumstance. At Mountain West Media days in July, conference commissioner Craig Thompson revealed that seven of the 12 teams in the conference have hit the 90% vaccination threshold. While Boise State hasn't specified its own vaccination rate, we do know they were not one of the seven at 90% at that point in time.
"As much as we all wish this COVID was behind us, we still have some areas to go in terms of vaccinations and getting ourselves in a situation where we're not going to compromise," Avalos said. "We're not going to be putting ourselves in situations where we might not be able to take advantage of all our contests this fall."
The Mountain West stated the conference will not make the vaccine mandatory. However, conference officials did identify potential consequences of low vaccination rates amongst their respective member institutions.
Unvaccinated individuals will remain subject to regulatory testing and contact tracing. On top of that, each institution would have to cover testing costs this season. During the 2020 season, the conference covered those fees.
The Mountain West also said that they won't postpone any games this year, meaning if a respective school can't play, they would have to forfeit the contest.
Clearly aware of those conditions, Avalos and Boise State have tried to educate their players on "both sides" of the equation.
"We've allowed people to come in and speak to the team. We've allowed experts on infectious disease and a couple different people or request of the players that just gave more information," Avalos said on Tuesday. "We've laid out the parameters of what it looks like when you're vaccinated and when you're not vaccinated.
"The one thing that we do know, " he continued, "is the settings we put ourselves in, who we're putting ourselves around, and how we handle those settings in terms of wearing a mask."
So yes, a new season is on the horizon, but as Avalos also stated on Tuesday, college football still hasn't returned to normalcy.
"We're not close," he said. "We have to be mindful of the decisions we make if we want to put our best food forward and keep ourselves in a position where we can continue to grow and compete. The protocols and the pandemic will play a role this year in college football."
One day into the season, they already have.
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