Roos Field’s red turf sits vacant amid the ghost town that is Cheney.
Eastern Washington University would usually be bustling with students just back from spring break as the football team trots onto the field for its first spring practice of the new season.
But as of Thursday, the scheduled start of practice, the football team remains at home as the COVID-19 pandemic floods the United States and forces athletes away from their sports.
In an interview on The Spokesman Review’s “Press Box Podcast” with Larry Weir, EWU head football coach Aaron Best said he has tried to keep his focus not on football, but on the current international war the world is facing.
“It’s something you naturally don’t prepare for,” he said. “But in the midst of the pandemic, you’re forced to change objectives a little bit and change your creative mind and do what you’re allowed to do. All the while trying to keep your family healthy, community healthy, your players and coaches healthy. So we’re not where we need to be, but we’re continuing to make headway in a lot of areas.”
Those areas in which the team needs to continue to build on becomes more difficult to tackle as the virus alters everyday life and has pushed back the start of the academic calendar at EWU.
Normally, Best has been able to see his players walking through campus and check in on them, but with all contact reserved to online communication, the normal spring routine is all out of sorts on all levels.
Best will try to figure out how to attack the upcoming season over the internet. Video chat will become the only form of communication he can have with his team, and workouts will have to be tracked from afar.
With the start of spring quarter being pushed back to Monday, Best has been unable to track his players’ workouts because of normal NCAA rules. Most, if not all, of his players are outside of Cheney anyway, trying to stay ready for the day spring football can resume.
“Hopefully, the sooner we’re better as a society, the sooner we get back to normalcy at some point,” Best said.
Normalcy is subjective, and the new structure for practices will have to be altered, he said.
Those decisions will be made above Best’s head as the NCAA and conferences try to agree on how to move forward when that opportunity presents itself.
“I think all things have to be on the table,” Best said. “I don’t think you can take anything off the table at this point. Some ideas sound and look better than others, so it’s got to be fluid. You can’t please everybody. It’s not going to work for everybody – it’s not an equal world.
But health takes precedence over football, even for the Eagles.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t about football,” Best said. “This is about (the coronavirus), about lives. This is about the pandemic that’s taken a lot of people off of this earth and stricken many families, and so football’s down the list.”
When spring quarter begins, every class will be online because face-to-face communication isn’t allowed. Best is waiting to hear what he is and isn’t allowed to do with his team.
“With differences comes challenges, with challenges comes a little bit of creative thinking outside the box and progression must be made that in that regard,” Best said. “We still have this week to work those out with the strength conditioning folks here on campus.”
The Press Box Podcast, hosted by Larry Weir, is available on all major streaming services and is found on Spokesman.com/sports.
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