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Sports >  Idaho football

Big Sky’s cancellation of fall sports means Idaho football must turn attention to spring season

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 13, 2020

Idaho Vandals head coach Paul Petrino talks his team through a drill during a practice last season in Moscow, Idaho.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Idaho Vandals head coach Paul Petrino talks his team through a drill during a practice last season in Moscow, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – After the Big Sky Conference announced Thursday that none of its fall teams would compete in or out of the conference, University of Idaho athletics director Terry Gawlik and football coach Paul Petrino discussed a season without sports.

“Everything is going to be different this year. Nothing will be the same,” Petrino said.

Idaho had been attempting to negotiate a football game this fall with Temple and had reached the point where it had done a walk-through focused on the Owls as recently as Wednesday, according to Petrino, who said his players “were looking forward to playing a nonconference game this fall.”

Now, Gawlik said, the game is off “per a conference decision released this morning.”

Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill said he was broken-hearted for Big Sky athletes. The Big Sky Presidents’ Council shut down cross country, soccer, volleyball, golf, softball and tennis on Aug. 6 and had already decided to move conference football games to the spring.

“Additionally, the Presidents’ Council confirmed that nonconference contests will not be permitted in any Big Sky fall sport, including football,” the commissioner said.

“Swimming is a bit of an outlier,” Gawlik noted.

Swimming is not a Big Sky sport, and the Vandals compete in the Western Athletic Conference. Swimming’s future this fall hasn’t been determined.

UI coaches were in the process of informing their teams of the loss of the fall season. Gawlik said she had been heartened by football, soccer and volleyball players who had returned to campus to begin preseason camps.

“They want to play. They want to practice and play,” she said. “We tried very hard to make this happen. A decision was made. Now we have to move forward.”

Reports last week that three-quarters of the Vandals football team didn’t want to play this fall mischaracterized players’ concerns, Petrino said. A number of players who had misgivings voiced them in a Zoom session with Gawlik and the coach.

“We talked it out,” Petrino said. “The No. 1 most important thing is their health and safety.”

Three unnamed players went forward with decisions not to play this fall for varying reasons, Petrino said. The remainder of the football team reported to campus for preseason workouts or is in the process of being tested for coronavirus and cleared to report.

Idaho has been doing conditioning and walk-throughs but had held no padded practices.

“All I can judge by is the guys who are out there. They have a great attitude and are working their tails off,” Petrino said of his team’s morale.

Determined to cast current circumstances in the most optimistic light, Petrino said a Vandals team he believes is loaded with talent now has an opportunity to give its new members more practice before taking the field.

“We’ve had our 14th walk-through,” he said. “We’re in as good of shape as you can be in.”

Pending guidance from the NCAA, Idaho will continue to keep the football team together and working out.

“We will use this like winter conditioning and get ready for spring,” Petrino said.

With fall, winter and spring sports now scheduled to overlap, Gawlik maintains that Idaho could make such a crowded calendar work.

“What if everything is pushed to spring? Could we pull off all those events? Yes,” Gawlik said of discussions with coaches and staff.

Such optimism is in line with what Gawlik said is Vandal athletics’ current mantra: “We need to try.”

The financial costs of losing football this fall will be significant but are not yet fully in view, she said. Gawlik pointed to the $500,000 payday Idaho expected from playing Washington next month.

“That’s certainly a budget income we rely upon yearly,” she said of playing teams in Power Five conferences.

The impacts of losing fall football revenue on cash flow and the prospect of recouping at least some of it next spring are not clear, Gawlik said. Again, it depends in part on NCAA policies.

Petrino amplified the sentiment in considering the wide-ranging but undetermined effects of the coronavirus pandemic on competition and recruiting.

“It’s a different year,” he said.

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