As professional sports are gearing back up and college sports are weighing their options in the coronavirus pandemic, the West Florida football program is fighting its own battle against the virus in an uncertain future.
After spring football was canceled in March, Head Coach Pete Shinnick and the Argonaut program moved into summer with many of the activities normally aimed at the upcoming season – with one exception.
“We’ve added a handful of players during that time; we’ve been able to get our guys, we were in that place back in the spring where we couldn’t have our guys on campus working out,” said Shinnick. “We just got them cleared; they’ve all tested, [and] they’ve all gotten their test results back.”
Without going into detail, Shinnick confirmed Thursday there have been members of the program who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We have, [we] can’t release that information, but there have [been]. We have not done anything as a group yet as of [Thursday] morning,” Shinnick said. ”Everyone who worked out [Thursday] morning with our program has been negative. The tests that have been positive, they’ve all been outside of our program not doing anything together.”
Work to defend the Division II crown began just after UWF’s 48-40 win over Minnesota State in December. But the pandemic has thrown a major wrench into the works. Last week, the Gulf South Conference delayed the start of all fall sports until late September or early October.
“I think it’s the right decision to make right now with the current climate and what’s taking place,” said Shinnick. “I think it puts our student-athletes in the safest situation possible moving forward.”
The league’s action comes as no real surprise to Shinnick, or the rest of the UWF Athletics program.
“Obviously, this decision wasn’t made lightly; there was a tremendous amount of thought put into this,” Shinnick said. “It’s really been an ongoing discussion all throughout the summer with the conference. I think it puts us in the best situation possible to be able to play a season and get done what we want to get done.”
Gulf South Conference member schools are working together on schedules that fit the timeline for competition, in hopes of a significant fall season. The new schedules for football, volleyball, and soccer involve conference opponents only. That means Shinnick’s crew will take the field only seven times in 2020.
“That was one of the reasons the decision was made [so] we could stay regionally; travel would be much shorter,” said Shinnick. “Texas A&M-Commerce was going to come to us — that was traveling across a couple of states. We were going up to Missouri and play a team. Now, we’re really staying regionally with our travel, which puts our student-athletes in a safer environment.”
For now, everything’s still day-to-day, says Shinnick, both in Florida and with institutions nationwide.
“Right now, we feel good about the schedule that’s in place; the timing of the schedule and how much time we have before we bring our players back and practice,” said UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick. “I think that’s the next domino to fall – let’s see where we are once we clear this hurdle.”
As mentioned, the conference-only timeline wipes out UWF’s season-opening football game with Texas A&M Commerce – which would have been a rematch of the 2017 D-2 national championship game. Plans are to play at Commerce next year, and bring them to Bayfront Stadium in 2022.