BYU football stayed safe, but off-campus parties could pull the plug on the 2020 season

(Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey | BYU) Chris Jackson (22) participates in BYU football practice in Provo, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

The BYU football team did everything right.

The Cougars formed as much of a bubble environment as possible through fall camp and the start of practices, but there was always a chance the coronavirus could infiltrate the team, especially once the fall semester started.

Players boasted about their self-accountability, but the issue was always bigger than them. And now the season could suffer, not because one of the Cougars necessarily did anything wrong, but because the regular student body did.

Students at BYU have come under fire from administrators since the semester started due to reckless off-campus behavior, including parties and pop-up dance clubs. The actions of college students in the state, but particularly at BYU and Utah Valley University, have led to “a clear upward trend in case counts right now,” state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said on Monday.

While BYU has added a COVID dashboard on its coronavirus website, the school moved from providing daily updates to weekly updates on case numbers.

Coach Kalani Sitake said he wasn’t aware of any parties on or off campus. What he’s focused on is educating the 123 players on his roster and staff to best handle the pandemic and keep the season going.

“It’s really important for us to be mindful of others,” Sitake said. “And I think what’s really dangerous about the virus is that all the majority of tests that we’ve had that are positive are asymptomatic. That’s a dangerous thing out there.”

When asked if any players have participated in any of the off-campus parties, senior Troy Warner said the coaches and staff made it clear at the start of the pandemic and as they prepared for the season that players will have to be very aware of their situations.

“And that includes not going to those types of activities or parties or whatever you may call it,” Warner said. “So, I think each guy on this team is very aware that they need to do their part in staying safe. Being aware of the surroundings and doing the right things so that they don’t put our season in jeopardy. I think each guy on this team is very aware of that and are doing their part in keeping this thing going.”

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Even if no players participated in parties, the coronavirus still found a way onto the team. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson reported that sources said about 10 players have tested positive and as many as 22 players are quarantined.

The BYU COVID-19 housing website says “quarantine protocols” are in place for those students living in on-campus housing. In an email Sept. 4, University Communications encouraged students to “be wise” and follow safety requirements on and off campus, but said there is no “specific case threshold” that would indicate a move back to remote learning, according to the Daily Universe.

As of Sept. 11, BYU reported a total of 258 cases on campus, 218 of which were still active.

Should cases continue to balloon, it would seem the university would have no choice but to move to remote learning. If that’s the case, it would seem unlikely the Cougars could continue to play.

BYU already had to postpone its Sept. 19 game against Army. While both schools will continue to work to reschedule, football has served as a driving force for the players to stay safe.

“Football, in and of itself, is a game where you’ve got to trust each other,” offensive lineman James Empey said. “So I think we’ve got a group of a lot of guys that [are] believing each other and trust each other. And I think everybody’s doing the best to keep themselves in good situations and just moving forward. We’re just going to keep trying to get better and better with the guidelines we’ve been given.”

If the Cougars have learned anything over the last six months, it’s to stay positive through the uncontrollable. And they will continue to do so as they are forced to take a second consecutive bye week before resuming the season Sept. 26 when BYU hosts Troy.

The upcoming home opener will be the first college football game played in the West.

“I’ve got a lot of friends that aren’t playing right now, and there’s a lot of great football players that are not playing right now,” Sitake said. “So I know their frustrations. And right now we have it on hold. This attitude that we have of appreciation and gratitude is going to continue. We talked to our players, had meetings about this entire process, and told them about it before the weekend that this was a strong possibility of postponing games. Huge disappointment in them, but they also left there with a lot of gratitude.”