Baylor AD Rhoades on football: ‘12 games, that’s our target’

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 6:35 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Baylor Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades gave an update on his optimism for the 2020 football season and COVID-19 testing protocols for Baylor athletics.

Tyler Bouldin: “Take us through a normal day for you right now. Obviously it’s not normal, but what are your top priorities at this moment?”

Mack Rhoades: “The day never ends up what you think it’s going to be. When you wake up, you certainly have your scheduled Zoom calls. Then there’s things that are always coming up. I think the primary focus right now is two-fold. One, Baylor athletics, right? In the process of onboarding our student-athletes, keeping them safe, working with the university, working with our local health officials, and making sure we do so in a very responsible way. The second piece is the national dialogue. The Big 12, A5 conferences, just all of the discussions and meetings with medical directors, athletic directors, obviously conference officials and talking about the reality of resuming sports in the fall. Those are the two things that probably take up most of my time and again, it’s a lot of variety in terms of all the conversations that are necessary to cover both of those topics.”

Bouldin: “The goal is for the entire 2020 football schedule being played. What would you say is the most realistic scenario in terms of a football season?”

Rhoades: “Twelve games, that’s our target. Frankly, there’s days where we’re cautiously optimistic, other days we’re cautiously pessimistic. There are variances within each of those, but right now we’re hopeful for 12. We’re listening, taking the advice of the medical directors and professionals. Ultimately, they’ll have the final call. They tell us to prcoeed cautiously. We can at least right now create a safe playing environment for our student-athletes. Nothing is 100%. I think as we get through July, and get to the first of August, and maybe even the first week of August, I think we’ll have a better sense of whether we need to pivot, meaning do we need to change to something less than 12 or conference-only, and do we play? There’s been all sorts of conversations, all sorts of scheduling models. There have been conversations of do you play in the spring or the fall? Our medical professionals think there’s no advantage, and there may even be disadvantages of playing in the spring. We’ll continue to listen, continue to bang the drum that, at the end of the day, we’re not going to compromise the health of our students and staff.”

Bouldin: “As of Thursday afternoon, Baylor and Ole Miss on September 6th is still on schedule. Considering the amount of positive cases in Houston and Harris County, what is the likelihood of that game being either cancelled or moved to another site, and what would be the target date to finalize those adjustments?”

Rhoades: “Your timing is impeccable. This morning that was one of my Zoom calls, I was on the phone with ESPN and Ole Miss. Let me reiterate, you said it. The game is not canceled. The game has not been canceled, and we didn’t talk about canceling it today. We did talk about the reality of Harris County, Fort Bend County and the rising (COVID-19) cases. Is there a reality if we play the 12 or the nine-conference games plus a non-conference game, is there a reality of playing it in Houston? That has not been ruled out. Logic would say we have to look at other options. ESPN will certainly explore other options, and we plan on getting back together on the phone here in the next couple weeks and see where we are.”

Bouldin: Could it be that much more difficult considering that teams travel to these games days in advance? Would Baylor consider driving down the day of the game?

Rhoades: “I don’t know if we’ve considered that. Today, what was announced that was really important, and maybe this is what you’re speaking to, the idea of keeping students safe and you’re on the field of competition together, and everyone is disease free, the announcement by the A5 conferences and NCAA for the standardized testing once we begin play. That is driven by our medical directors. That is a huge step forward for all of us, and then back to your question, if we thought that was a much safer alternative, and our doctors thought that was much safer to go day of, absolutely we would consider that.

Bouldin: “Baylor released an updated count on Tuesday -- 16 active COVID-19 cases among its athletes. What have you seen from the Baylor student-athletes regarding concerns they might have of playing through this kind of season?”

Rhoades: “We have been intentional about trying to seek student-athlete feedback. Prior to every one of the sports teams that have been onboarded, we’re getting ready to do the same with men’s and women’s basketball. We sent out a survey to make sure we know what’s on their minds and to also make sure they know the requirements of what’s necessary with the onboarding process. The Big 12, we hav ea football working group that we chair, we met with 20 student-athletes and sought their feedback. They have a lot of great questions about the disease itself. Some of the student-athletes have already had it. Like, ‘how will this impact me personally?’ They’re seeking information and hopefully we’re doing a great job of providing them. Our sense is the student-athletes are eager to play, and they want to play, but they’re trusting us to make sure we provide as safe of an environment as we possibly can. They just want to know that’s the case. In turn, they have a big part of this as well. We all have a big part in terms of creating as safe of an environment as we possibly can. I think we’re in a good place as we continue to move forward and we’ll continue to seek just how our student-athletes are feeling.”

Bouldin: “If you had a message for Baylor fans, students, alumni, if you could tell them something in terms of keeping the faith, what would you say?”

Rhoades: “I’m at peace. I’m not losing sleep. I think we’re surrounded by the very best people -- medical directors, doctors, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure a safe environment, we’re not going to put the health and safety of our student-athletes at risk. Candidly, I believe we can do that. I believe we can have a football season. Is it anything like last year or previous years? Absolutely not. There’s this idea of ‘new normal’ and it will be different. Two words we’re using are adaption and flexibility. We’re hog and a half to embrace both of those. Again, I’m really optimistic about having a season, we just need to understand it’s not going to be like anything we’ve had before.”

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