Chris Del Conte, the always-upbeat University of Texas athletics director, is confident there will be Longhorn football this fall.
"I'm fully optimistic," Del Conte said Tuesday in an interview with Austonia. "There will be football at DKR [Memorial Stadium] this fall."
But as of mid-May, the UT AD has no firm answers on what sort of impact the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have in September. UT's season opener against South Florida, Sept. 5, still is on the calendar.
All Del Conte can do is plan for every scenario, whether that means robust business-as-usual for an athletic program that generated nearly $224 million in revenue last fiscal year; playing a modified schedule with or without fans in the stands; or a doomsday fall without football, the sport that pays most of the bills.
Del Conte said he has four committees working on issues relating to the athletes, staff, the games and game management when or if they're played. If football happens, chances are other fall sports—mainly women's volleyball and soccer—also will receive the go-ahead.
On March 12, the NCAA canceled all college sports competitions for the spring. Individual leagues, like the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences, then told schools that football teams couldn't conduct the traditional 15-session spring workouts that usually end with a giant scrimmage. The leagues also dictated how much interaction coaches could have with athletes, most of whom moved home after campuses closed. The restrictions will be reassessed by May 31.
As parts of the country are starting to reopen, so, too, is the sports world, with professional baseball, golf and basketball moving toward limited reopening.
So what about college football, which is celebrated across the state? There already are some parameters being set.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said last week he doesn't think football will be played at schools if campuses aren't open this fall.
"All of the commissioners and every president that I've talked to is in clear agreement," Emmert said in an interview posted on the NCAA's Twitter account. "If you don't have students on campus, you don't have student-athletes on campus. That doesn't mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you've got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. So if a school doesn't reopen, then they're not going to be playing sports. It's really that simple."
Del Conte said UT will be open this fall.
Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp told the Texas Tribune last week that Aggie students will be able to return to campus for fall classes—and football. Baylor and Texas Tech also are planning on reopening.
Coaches have indicated that in order to play football in the fall, the teams would need about six weeks of practice time. There would be about two weeks of orientation, or what the team missed in spring practices. The remaining time would be considered preseason training camp.
That means if the season is to start on time, players would have to be allowed back by mid-July.
Meanwhile, athletic directors are working on social-distancing plans for the games.
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, in a teleconference last week, said he's working on the following questions:
"How do we make people feel comfortable? What does social distancing look like, you know, come the fall? What are all the best practices and protocols that are out there? All those things are on the table, and we're constantly going through them, and again, these things are all fluid. The good thing is we do have time to make those decisions."
Del Conte said any plans are fluid, depending on how well the virus is controlled. But in mid-May, there is the luxury of time.
"We're not making any rash decisions at the University of Texas," Del Conte said. "We have an optimistic view, we'll be here in the fall."
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It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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