UMass cancels football season due to coronavirus pandemic

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell walks the sideline in the first half of the Minutemen’s 45-20 loss to Southern Illinois at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. gazette file PHOTO/KEVING GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. UMass has announced the cancellation of this year’s football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, UMass Athletics announced the cancellation of this year's football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Sports Editor
Published: 8/11/2020 10:58:48 AM

The University of Massachusetts canceled its football season on Tuesday, becoming the latest Football Bowl Subdivision school to pull the plug amid growing concerns around the coronavirus pandemic.

UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford made the decision after consulting with university, state and public health officials. The team intends to play its season in the spring.

“We have been in constant communication with university leadership and our football staff since March, with the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff remaining our top priority,” Bamford said in a statement. “The continuing challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic posed too great of a risk, and we reached the conclusion that attempting to play a season would not have placed the members of our program in the safest situation possible.”

UMass football coach Walt Bell and Bamford scheduled a press conference for 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“I am absolutely heartbroken for our players, our former players, our alumni and our UMass Football community,” Bell said in a statement. “Our job as coaches and mentors is to provide opportunities for our players, and do everything in our power to not take them away. Today’s news was devastating, but we will be resilient and prepared to be our best when our best is required.”

UMass is the 27th FBS program out of 130 to cancel the season.

UMass had the intention of playing a season. Football players began returning to campus for team activities in late June, with extensive health and safety protocols in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, only wide receiver Zak Zimon had elected to opt out of the season.

The redshirt junior from Temecula, California, tweeted: “Due to the uncertainly and growing concerns of COVID-19, my family and I ultimately have made the decision to opt out of the 2020 football season. With the lack of leadership within our country it has force me to prioritize my health and the people that I love, thus leading to my decision.”

Over the past seven weeks the program had only one positive test with more than 600 COVID-19 tests administered.

“I would like to give an unbelievable amount of gratitude to our medical professionals, our administration, our campus, our athletic training staff and our operations staff for creating one of the safest environments in college football,” Bell said. “The testing, the protocols, the risk mitigation, and the execution have been incredible.”

UMass lost a fourth game from its 12-game schedule over the weekend when the Mid-American Conference announced that it canceled its season. UMass was scheduled to play at Akron on Oct. 17.

UMass had previously lost UConn, Albany and Auburn. The game against Auburn carried a $1.9 million payout. Details of the payout have not yet been determined.

UMass had home games remaining against Troy, Temple, FIU, New Mexico State and Army. The road schedule had Appalachian State, New Mexico and Liberty.

As an independent program, Bamford was optimistic earlier this month that he could fill any holes in the schedule had there been a season.

UMass did not complete its spring practice regiment or host its Spring Game due to the NCAA’s cancellation of athletic activities in March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These times have presented us with extensive uncertainty, and we are disappointed for all the members of our fall sports programs who will not have the opportunity to compete this autumn,” Bamford said in a statement. “We remain hopeful and fully intend to conduct a competitive schedule for our fall sports in the 2021 spring semester.”

This is the latest step the university has taken to safeguard against the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, UMass Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy announced that the campus population would be reduced due to “the worsening conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic nationally.”

The new plan removes students who are taking a full remote class schedule from campus. Only students enrolled in essential classes, such as laboratory, studio and capstone courses, will be able to live on campus and have access to campus buildings and dining rooms.

UMass’ earlier plan called for 50-60% of the student population to live on campus. UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said Friday that only about 740 students will have dorm rooms. Only 600 or so students remained on campus following the mid-March shutdown of UMass.

UMass’ current football roster online lists 98 players. Players will remain enrolled in coursework full-time, either virtually or in-person, in line with UMass’ update to its fall reopening plan.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.



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