Drinkwitz planning to start Mizzou’s season on time
While a college football season seems more likely now than in previous weeks and months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the full 2020 slate taking place as scheduled remains a question mark.
With many FBS teams currently holding voluntary on-campus workouts, the path to game day appears closer.
But there are still challenges ahead.
Earlier this week, Houston shut down all workouts after several athletes tested positive for COVID-19. Missouri has said information about the testing of Tiger student-athletes will not become publicly available, but every athlete who returns to campus will undergo temperature checks and be tested for the disease.
Tigers head coach Eliah Drinkwitz is pushing forward with a plan to start his first season at MU as intended.
“We're planning on playing Sept. 5,” Drinkwitz said. “And that's my mindset, until something changes. ... I don't think we can possibly prepare for every scenario with COVID right now. I think what we have to do is take one day at a time and try to do what we're supposed to do to be as successful as we can be today. And we will figure out those problems as they arise.”
Drinkwitz said the matter of whether fans will be in the stadiums this fall doesn’t need to affect how his players go about their training today. However, he is looking for some clarification about the safest possible return to full-fledged practices and games.
The NBA released its plan this week for a late-July return to games with separate team hotels, and the NHL is in phase two of its return-to-play plan for a possible start in mid-July.
“There’s so many unlimited possibilities. ... At least in some of the other sports that are coming back, there's a universal rule for the whole thing, like basketball’s released it,” Drinkwitz said. “There's not that yet (in the NCAA). So I don't know if we're going to handle testing and repopulation and testing each week differently than everybody else, and I think we're all kind of waiting on what becomes the accuracy of the testing and what's the best practice. And I don't know that in June we know that.
“I think we know a lot more on June 17 than we did on March 17. And so I think they're hoping that in four more weeks, we have more information. We can make more accurate decisions.”
MU athletes sign pledge
A Missouri athletics spokesperson confirmed that MU asked returning student-athletes to sign a pledge stating they will take seven coronavirus precautions while in Columbia.
Those include self-monitoring their symptoms, practicing good hygiene (including proper hand washing) and going through daily screenings.
Drinkwitz said Wednesday he was unaware of his players having to sign any document before resuming on-campus workouts.
The pledge is different from an exemption waiver provided by schools such as SMU, where the athletic department and university would hold no responsibility should a student-athlete be diagnosed with COVID-19 after participating in on-campus activities.
Missouri’s form appears to be spearheaded by mitigating the spread within the Tiger community.
“It's been around less than a year. And so we get new information every day about it. As coaches, we're learning new stuff every single day,” Drinkwitz said of the coronavirus. “What I advised our football team is to take this as an extreme threat, that they need to practice safe social distancing. The way we enter our building and the way we operate in our building is 6 feet of separation and no closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, and if you do, you have to have a mask on.
“And that's hard to do in a workout, but we figured out how to do that in a workout, we figured out how to do that running, we figured out how to do that in the locker room. We've put extreme thought and caution into that aspect of it and we've asked them to do the same thing on a daily basis.
“... So it's voluntary. I mean, I can't require, I can't restrict what they're doing the other 21 hours, and they're 18- to 22-year-old young men. ... Back in the day when you were 22, I mean, can somebody tell you what you can and can't do? It's hard.”
Offense sneak peek
Drinkwitz said a question that currently keeps him up at night is how different quarterbacks would impact his overall offensive strategy.
The Tigers have yet to name a starting signal caller for the 2020 season, with TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, returning former backup Taylor Powell and rising sophomore Connor Bazelak, who is coming off ACL surgery, figured to be the three main contenders for the spot.
Drinkwitz mentioned the possibility of Micah Wilson, a former MU quarterback turned wide receiver, or Jalen Knox, a high school running back and current Missouri wide receiver, taking snaps from a Wildcat formation to try and create more diversity of plays.
Drinkwitz also said it could be easier to rely on systems from former head coach Barry Odom’s offense because returning players may execute that better with limited practice time.
“I don't think there's an easy answer on that because the pass game involves timing and execution,” Drinkwitz said. “Our offense by nature is timing and execution, and do we have enough time to put together a product that's going to be successful in a limited number of 25 practices for fall camp? I don't know. And that is not necessarily fair to the quarterback room. But life's not fair.
“... Our goal is to win the SEC East and so whatever it's going to take to win those football games is what we have to do as an organization. ... That is the question that keeps me up at night.”