In wake of Big Ten decision, college football starting, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford stays the course

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Another weekend of college football went into the books on Saturday night. It wasn't all that much fun for University of Massachusetts athletic director Ryan Bamford.

After all, the Minutemen had been scheduled to play their home opener on Saturday.

"It was hard on Saturday to watch games, I will tell you that," Bamford said.

Instead of playing Troy University at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, the Walt Bell-led Minutemen have been doing some working out. That's all they have since the school announced on Aug. 11 that it would not be playing football in the fall.

While schools in the ACC and Sun Belt Conferences have already played games, the SEC is getting ready to start a season and the Big Ten Conference announced on Wednesday that it would play football, the UMass athletic director said he has no buyer's remorse about the school pulling out of football in 2020.

"I think I've said this from the beginning, I don't question any part of us creating the safe environment and being able to keep that," Bamford said, in a phone interview with The Eagle. "We've continued on into September here, and even though we're not playing games, I never worried about lining up against another football team, given the testing protocols that were in place. This, I think, became a lot bigger than football.

"Unfortunately, for us, it meant that we had to postpone playing games, ideally, until the spring."

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Five of the seven schools that appeared on the 2020 UMass schedule elected not to play football in the fall. Those include Connecticut, UAlbany, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Akron. Auburn will play this fall, but the SEC had determined that it would only play conference games. That erased the Nov. 14 matchup between the Minutemen and Tigers off of both teams' schedules.

Troy, Appalachian State, Temple, FIU, Army and Liberty are all still playing football games. Instead of visiting the Pioneer Valley, Troy will play Saturday at Middle Tennessee. Army is already 2-0, having beaten Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe, while Appalachian State beat Charlotte.

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Liberty opens Saturday at Western Kentucky and will host FIU in the FIU opener. Temple won't play until Oct. 10, but the city of Philadelphia has now given the school permission for full practices and games.

If nothing else, Bamford said that he was very busy on the phone after watching some of the several games that were played over the weekend, comparing notes with other athletic administrators.

"I watched bits and pieces of probably five or six games and on Sunday and [Monday] I talked to a handful of different ADs and administrators. I think there's a gamut of things running through people right now," he said. "I talked to some folks who have had games canceled or postponed because of COVID outbreaks. I think the uncertainty, even though we're in the thrust of it, yes there were games played. But there were also in the last two weeks, a number of games postponed or canceled. We probably would have been right there in the middle of all of it, not knowing week-to-week where we were going to be as our own football program, where we were going to be with our opponents. I've taken notes. We've tried to kind of understand exactly what's happening with the rest of FBS football, and if the Big Ten and others are thinking of coming back and playing, what that may mean for our spring season.

"That's probably where I'm more focused at this point."

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When Bamford and Bell appeared on that August Zoom call to announce the cancellation of the 2020 regular season, both coach and athletic director were optimistic that UMass could put together some sort of football schedule in the Spring 2021 time frame.

"The virus controls everything. What I told Coach Bell [Monday] when I spoke with him is we might have every intention, every desire, every want to play football in the spring. It's not going to be 12 games, there's no doubt about that. We've resigned ourselves to the idea that it's going to be something less than that, which is fine because we're going to turn around and play in the fall," Bamford said. "Walt's initial take and where I'm in agreement with him is, let's see if we can get some competitive opportunities in the spring and see what that looks like.

"There's still a lot of fall left to see where team's end up. Assuming these teams can stay healthy and keep moving forward, for now. We know what teams are pushing to the spring and we'll see what opportunities exist there."

What that schedule might look like and who would play is a complete unknown today. But the AD did say that watching games and talking to administrators will provide, if not a blueprint to Spring, certainly some ideas when games resume.

"Absolutely. I've learned a lot from them on the things leading up to kicking off," he said. "Just about all the things they didn't think about or their staffs were surprised by, maybe a day or two or a week before they had to kick off a game, whether it be at home or on the road. A number of those things will enlighten our decision-making process and our operational processes moving forward."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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