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Emotional Randy Edsall on UConn decision: Lives of his players 'more important than money'

DAVID BORGES
New Haven Register (TNS)
UConn head coach Randy Edsall hugs one of his players during senior day in 2019. The Susquehannock High School graduate got emotional on Wednesday in explaining the Huskies' decision to cancel the 2020 football season, saying the lives of his players were "more important than money."

Susquehannock High School graduate Randy Edsall and a group of his players were walking up the hill to UConn’s practice field recently when it all became rather clear.

The Huskies had 10 players either isolated or quarantined due to coronavirus-like symptoms. They had eight offensive linemen on the field, out of necessity. The season-opener loomed just weeks away. Even sooner, some 8,000 fellow students were due to return to campus in mid-August.

“Coach,” one player said to Edsall, “there’s no way that we can play the season.”

“That,” Edsall later reported, “started to get the ball rolling.”

That ball came to a stop on Wednesday morning, when UConn announced it would cancel football for the 2020 season. The Huskies became the first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team to make such a decision.

“Our players wanted to play, they were eager to play, they wanted to do what we had to do,” Edsall said during a WebEx call with the media on Wednesday afternoon. “But as we continued through this process, it became evident that we weren’t gonna be able to do that, understanding the most important thing for us is that we look out for the health and welfare of the student-athlete.”

Getting emotional: Edsall was at times emotional during the 45-minute call with reporters, referencing the death of former player Jasper Howard, who was fatally stabbed on campus 11 years ago.

“For me, it’s always been about the student-athlete,” he said. “In my career, we’ve had a situation here where we lost a player to an act of senseless violence. Some of those things stick with you. These young kids, you’re their teachers, coaches, mentors. You’re their parent away from home. You have to make decisions that keeps their health and safety at the highest level. Knowing we can control this situation ... that’s what we did.”

Edsall added that after input from athletic director David Benedict, President Thomas Katsouleas, medical professionals, UConn’s board of trustees, and, most significantly, his players, the decision was made late last week.

“Everybody had a say in it,” said Edsall. “But the guys who had the biggest say were the players. We heard them loud and clear and supported them 100 percent.”

UConn's logistics: The logistics of the decision are made easier by the fact that UConn was slated to compete as an independent this year after playing in the American Athletic Conference the past seven seasons. All other UConn sports (except hockey) are moving to the Big East, which doesn’t sponsor football.

“Let me just say one thing: If I was the head coach in a conference, Power Five or Group of Five, I’d be doing the same thing,” Edsall noted, his voice cracking with emotion, “because these young mens’ lives are more important than money. I’m just glad we made the right decision.”

According to Benedict, the decision was based on a “complex set of circumstances”: the safety and welfare of the players, staff, and (potentially) fans; the complexities and timelines of testing; a lack of preparedness (just 14 practices so far, with minimal participation) to be ready for a full season; and state health and travel guidelines that had already helped swath the Huskies’ 2020 schedule down to just two games.

Scheduling issues: UConn’s games against Illinois and Indiana were canceled after the Big Ten decided to play conference games only. Same with Ole Miss and the SEC. A bout with Maine was lost after the Colonial Athletic Conference canceled its season, and while games against Virginia and North Carolina hadn’t been canceled yet, those states are virus hot spots that would complicate travel to and from Connecticut. Same with slated meetings against Liberty, Old Dominion, San Jose State and Middle Tennessee State. Liberty and Old Dominion are both located in Virginia.

That left UMass and Army as the only two viable games left on the schedule.

“Had we wanted to move forward, we could have played a full schedule,” Benedict insisted. “The number of calls, emails, text messages I’ve received the last couple of weeks inquiring about games, that would not have been a problem. However, it would not have looked the same as our schedule did entering the season.”

Financial outlook: It’s worth noting that UConn was slated to lose $380,500 this season through guaranteed payouts. The program would have received $1 million combined from games at Virginia, Ole Miss, North Carolina, San Jose State and Illinois, but would have had to pay a combined $1.38 million to its other opponents.

Said Benedict: “We didn’t make this decision based on the finances of it.”

The team has been on campus since early July, and no student-athletes (in any UConn sport) have tested positive for COVID-19. However, since July 10, three players have been isolated from the team after experiencing symptoms, and 19 others have been quarantined (for an average of 10 days) via contact-tracing, according to Edsall.

Players support decision: A statement from the players read: “As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally and physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. We love this game and love competing. We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome.”