ANTHONY: Susquehannock grad Randy Edsall makes sure player voices matter

The Hartford Courant (TNS)
Randy Edsall

We’ve discussed college football and its viability for a fast-approaching season so often in this space that I feel like I’ve been flattened by a faster-approaching linebacker, leaving me exasperated and woozy.

We, the public at large, haven’t discussed football players much, though, have we? Their thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears – you know, all that should be at the forefront of, but remains largely absent from, an immoral pursuit of money.

“Before any decisions are going to be made, at least in my mind, we’re going to make sure – I’m going to make sure – that our players have a say in this,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said Saturday. “They’re the ones going on the field and playing. … The conferences are all making these decisions and I don’t think there’s any real input from the student-athletes. That’s one thing that we’re going to make sure happens here at the University of Connecticut. Our players are going to be heard.

“I’m not going on the field to play. David (Benedict) is not going on the field to play. The Board of Trustees isn’t going on the field to play. The president (Tom Katsouleas) isn’t going on the field to play. Those guys are going on the field to play and they have to feel comfortable and have a free mind of going out to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and also be sure that the experience is something they’re really going to want. That’s my obligation. I’m kind of like the union rep for them. I represent them. I have to make sure their voice is taken into consideration.”

This is the best thing I’ve heard the Susquehannock High School graduate say in a while and it made me feel good about his program, no matter the wins and losses of late, no matter whether the Huskies will take the field for a season of any kind in 2020.

Practice is scheduled to begin Wednesday. UConn’s first game in a schedule coming apart at the seams is set for Sept. 3.

There shouldn't be a season: There should not be a season, of course, not in calendar year 2020. I’ve argued that for a while now, and the linebackers of Twitter and email have come at me with the force of Terry Tate in an office setting. Whack! You’re crazy, chump!

Am I? I asked Edsall if I was crazy. Considering that our last phone conversation, back in February, led me to begin a column with, “Randy Edsall has issues,” I figured he might say, “Yes, Chump!”

Edsall declined to comment on whether he thinks there should be a season, but still the best conversation I’ve had with him in years rolled on for 45 minutes, some fresh air pumped into this clouded coronavirus world.

“Everybody is getting to the point of deciding if they’re playing conference games (only), and for us it’s just a matter of making sure we gather all the information and all the stakeholders digest that information but most important, that all that information is shared with the No. 1 stakeholders, the student-athletes,” Edsall said. “You tell them what it all looks like and you get their feedback. To me, that percentage weighs higher than any percentage out there.

“If you just go back to what you learned in grade school, put a chart together, put a plus on one side, put a minus on the other, and go down the columns. Really, on the plus side (to having a season), probably the only one that you really see there is money. You’ve got a lot more there on the minus side. And to me, this is me talking, you can’t let the dollar signs outweigh all the other things that affect people’s health, welfare and livelihood.”

Right on.

At one point Edsall said, “Give me credit for being halfway smart. I know you don’t think I’m very smart, but … “

On same page with Edsall: Actually, for the better part of 20 years, including my two years as a columnist, we’ve been on the same page 95% of the time. Never more so than Saturday, when he discussed all the unknowns that I consider enough to make a fall 2020 season unmanageable from a logistical standpoint alone.

“There’s nobody that can tell me what we’re going to be doing on game day,” Edsall said. “Are we going to have to dress in a hotel, bus to the stadium? How are we going to use the locker room? You’ve seen the locker rooms at these visiting places; they’re a match box. You can’t put 60 guys in there and socially distance. And what are you going to do on the sidelines? Guys come off, they have to be socially distanced. How are you going to coach guys up? Then guys who aren’t in there, the NCAA stated they have to have a mask on. … And what do you do at halftime? (Go to) the locker room? After the game, are you going to be able to shower in those facilities or do you have to get a hotel room for two nights, go back to hotel and shower before you get on a plane? And we have a travel ban for 34 states now.”

Four games lost for sure: The Huskies have already lost four games for certain, with conferences and schools modifying schedules and adopting COVID-19 solutions that aren’t solutions at all, just a shady way to keep TV contracts intact and money flowing in. Do you want UConn’s first season as an independent to be a couple of home-and-homes with UMass and Army? At least Massachusetts and New York aren’t on the travel ban list – today, anyway.

And if you disregard all that’s going on in the world – disregard the safety of players and coaches and staff members and referees and so many others, even – and just think in terms of how the actual football product would ultimately be affected, I’d say this: For a program that has relied on so many young players, most of them having played without redshirting, a year away from competition with eligibility maintained would be the best thing for competitive development. The 2019 to 2021 jump with players who would have been juniors and seniors in 2020 would be incredible.

But that’s beside the point today and tomorrow and until we all get on board with the fact that there should be no season starting in September for reasons worth considering.

A function beyond competition: The players in Storrs will be heard before they’re seen on a field. Edsall will make sure. To hear him speak Saturday was to be reminded of the function of an athletic program beyond competition.

“You take a group of leaders and you put them in front of people I report to, to let the young men express concerns themselves,” Edsall said. “That’s how you make young men learn how to speak up and take a stand and communicate with elders, and that way they aren’t afraid to go to people and say, ‘Hey, I’d just like to express my opinion.’ If you’re going to be a leader, you’ve got to learn to get out of your comfort zone. … All of these guys are going to go on in life and most of them are not going on to a career in the NFL. If you teach them the right things now, it’s going to give them an opportunity to be ahead of most people coming out of college at the same time.”