Heading into an unprecedented spring football season, UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said Wednesday that the impact of potential positive coronavirus tests on his program’s season will likely come down to how it impacts the Great Danes’ individual position groups.
In a teleconference with reporters, Gattuso said he didn’t have an exact number in mind of how many players being held out due to positive COVID-19 tests and resultant contact tracing would force a potential game postponement during UAlbany’s six-game CAA season, which is scheduled to open March 5 at New Hampshire.
Gattuso called the calculus “more of a positional situation,” highlighting the quarterback spot as a particular example where the Great Danes only have four players on the roster.
The details weren’t specific, but Gattuso said his program was prepared to reckon with the reality of the pandemic during the season.
“I don’t really have a number in my mind, to be honest with you,” Gattuso said of how many positive tests could force a pause on activities or a game postponement. “We’re going into it, obviously, trying to stay healthy. If we lose a group of our productive players, the guys that have been practicing the most, and we can’t field a football team without exposing some people to game situations that aren’t ready to play, I think you’d have to start considering not playing.”
During the teleconference, CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said the league had a “guideline” in place for dealing with the impact of positive tests and contact tracing, rather than a “hard and fast policy,” but that as cases arise the conference office will work in consultation with the individual schools as well as state, local and campus health authorities to formulate decisions.
“Ultimately,” D’Antonio said, “the decision lies with the conference office. If we’re in a situation if a team is without players and they’re not able to play, from a medical standpoint, that game is going to be postponed
and/or canceled. If there’s an opportunity to make it up in the future, that’s what we’d look for.”
D’Antonio cited the importance of flexibility in the league’s plan for a season that’s already been postponed from the fall and condensed to a six-week format with the conference’s teams split into two geographic groups for play.
Each team, D’Antonio said, would be required to follow the league’s “testing cadence” during the week and must attest to having followed those guidelines in order to be eligible to play in a given week.
In a phone interview later Wednesday, D’Antonio said the league’s testing protocol requires either one PCR test per week, conducted within three days of a game, or three antigen tests per week. However, he noted, many schools in the conference are testing beyond those minimum guidelines.
“If, during that process, there is an unfortunate situation of a positive test,” he said during the teleconference, “that’s a situation that’ll have to be dealt with by that institution in terms of their contact tracing mechanisms, dealing with their state, local and campus public health officials to determine — not only for the individual that tested positive, but for the other individuals that would be contact traced — who’s available and who’s not available.”
For a UAlbany team coming off a 9-5 campaign in a 2019 season where the Great Danes reached the FCS playoffs for the first time in 2011, the weight of the pandemic has loomed large.
Gattuso said it truly hit home for his players during the fall, when the team’s practices were disrupted by multiple pandemic-related pauses that shut down the entire UAlbany athletic department.
“When we started missing practices in the fall,” he said, “I think it hit home with them to not take for granted what we all love to do.”
Dealing with pandemic-related challenges will be one of many issues teams must navigate during this spring season.
One of the biggest issues UAlbany must deal with, Gattuso said, is preparing for the season during the dead of winter. UAlbany’s full preseason practices are scheduled to open Feb. 4. The Great Danes’ coach said he’s always preferred practicing outside, and that his team needs to be ready to deal with the elements — especially as the team’s March 5 opener is a night game in Durham, New Hampshire, that’s likely to present chilly conditions.
“We’re going to be out in the weather practicing,” Gattuso said. “We’re going to play in it. We obviously have safety protocols if the temperatures get too cold. We’re going to stay safe at all times. But, at the same time, it’s football. You start making excuses when you play football, it’s going to show up later on.”
UAlbany’s current schedule consists of three home games and three road games, though the possibility exists that one of those road games could be moved as there are questions as to whether Maine, the Great Danes’ March 13 opponent, will be able to host games due to restrictions on gatherings in that state.
D’Antonio said it was too early to come to conclusions on how Maine’s schedule will unfold, but added the possibility exists that the Black Bears could be forced into playing its full season on the road.
Regardless of location, Gattuso doesn’t think they’ll be much need to add fuel to the fire for his team once the season finally kicks off almost 15 months to the day from when the Great Danes’ 2019 season ended with an FCS second-round playoff loss to Montana State.
“It’s like waving meat in front of a tiger here,” he said. “These guys want to play football. Our guys haven’t played since Dec. 7 of , we haven’t had full pads on since then. They’re just chomping at the bit to get out there. I don’t think I have to motivate them.
“I’m more worried about them being calm at the beginning of the first game more than anything else, because they just can’t wait to get going.”