Coach Randy Edsall was watching his team take the field for a summer workout when he realized there might not be a football season at the University of Connecticut this fall.
Only 30 percent of his players were participating in voluntary workouts, with some missing because they were quarantining or isolating after exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
His players realized it, too.
On Wednesday, on what was supposed to be the first day of training camp, UConn announced the cancellation of the 2020 football season, becoming the first bowl subdivision program to say it won’t be playing.
“Our players wanted to play,” Edsall said on a call with media. “They were eager to play. They wanted to do what we had to do. But as we continued through this process, it became evident that we weren’t going to be able to do that.”
The decision was made last Friday after meetings with director of sports medicine Dr. Deena Casiero and the team’s leadership council, and later with the board of trustees.
“Every young man had an opportunity to speak,” Edsall said. “They were united in terms of what they felt was best for them. The risk wasn’t worth the reward in terms of playing, and we heard them loud and clear and supported them 100 percent.”
Members of the team also issued a statement, which was read to media by senior offensive lineman Ryan Van Demark Wednesday:
“As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. There are many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had optimal time to train mentally and physically to be properly prepared to compete this season.
“There are a lot of personal as well as team goals we are looking to achieve, and unfortunately the virus has taken that away [and] the resources we need in order to accomplish that.
“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.”
No players have tested positive for the coronavirus since returning to campus, according to the school, but several have been subject to isolation or quarantine.
Edsall explained that the isolation requirements, which have affected as many as 22 players since July 10, were a result of symptom logging and contact tracing. If players self-reported symptoms, they were not allowed to enter team facilities; they consulted with trainers and doctors, who recommended each option on an individual basis before retesting was completed.
UConn, which left the American Athletic Conference for the Big East in July, intended to compete as an independent in football. Games against Illinois, Indiana, Maine, and Mississippi had already been canceled by those schools’ conferences. UConn noted that “uncertainty surrounded” games against North Carolina and Virginia.
Athletic director David Benedict said the team considered playing home-and-home series with other independents, including UMass, but ultimately decided against it.
“I see people and I hear people saying that because we’re independent, we’re able to do this,” Edsall said. “If I was a head coach in a conference, in a Power 5 conference, a Group of 5 conference, I’d be saying the same thing. I’d be doing the same thing. These young mens’ lives are more important than money.”
UConn players will remain enrolled in virtual or in-person classes while continuing to have access to team facilities.
In July, the Big East canceled nonconference games for fall sports, and UConn said it would work with the conference to determine the path forward for its other programs. The UConn athletic department department will contact football season ticket-holders in the coming days and will offer full refunds if requested.