WCIA — It’s only been 24 hours since the Big Ten postponed fall sports but the weight of the last five months and the uncertainty of the next six are sitting heavy for so many. There are still more questions than answers, despite the news setting in that no games will be played until November for winter sports at the earliest. Fall sports will have to wait until 2021.
“You know it was a roller coaster,” Illinois junior running back Mike Epstein said about the last few weeks during a Zoom call Wednesday. “You know a lot of whispers here and there, a lot of noise from the outside world on how everything was going to go down. It was tough just to block all that out because we knew things weren’t looking great in our situation but I think we did the best job we could.”
The Illini found out the season wasn’t happening this fall after their fifth training camp practice on Tuesday. Epstein was already back in Florida on Wednesday, where he’ll spend the next two weeks before school starts on Aug. 24.
“I’ve never been in more of an uncertain situation,” Epstein said. “They could tell me we’re going back to campus tomorrow or we’re not going back to campus and I’d believe either of them. This whole thing has been so much uncertainty.”
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman and football coach Lovie Smith met the media on Zoom Wednesday. Chancellor Robert Jones was scheduled to join the call but canceled last minute due to ‘travel plans’, according to a university spokesperson. Jones had the university’s final vote in the Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), the governing body of the Big Ten Conference. Whitman said one of the key factors in making the decision to postpone was contact tracing.
“Ultimately I think we hoped to be able to develop a solution and we haven’t yet,” Whitman said. “The idea that you’re going to go out and play football against someone based on current protocols, if one of those people tests positive, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have many other people put on the shelf as well, even though they may not have the virus at that moment. How do you play football in that environment is a tough question that we had a hard time answering.”
Whitman went on to say he supports the decision and reiterated it was made to protect the health and safety of the conference’s student-athletes. Smith doubled down on wanting to play on Wednesday, following up his comments a day earlier to take the field this fall.
“We’re disappointed too like everyone else that we’re not going to have a college football fall season,”the now fifth-year Illini coach said. “We’ve started the process of what do we do next? You know we want to play football as soon as we possibly can.”