Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells provided an update on Tuesday regarding spring training and how the football team is coping with the restrictions in place due to COVID-19.
“We're a little bit uncharted territory right now, as a nation, as a university and really as a city and as families and we're all kind of going through it together,” Wells said. “So, I believe, we all have a responsibility as citizens to do our part, and we're trying to flatten off this curve not to allow this virus to spread.”
Last week, the entire dynamic of college sports shifted, as the NCAA and Big 12 conference imposed restrictions and cancellations across all NCAA sports, with spring and winter sports’ seasons coming to a close.
Meanwhile, sports in the off-season, such as football, had restrictions placed on facilities which prevented student-athletes from working out or from being at team facilities through March 29, with an extension on those policies potentially coming in the next few weeks.
“And so that's why this time off is going to be a challenge,” Wells said, “maybe more than others but because we need to be here we need to grow them up, we need to get them in our system. They need to practice. We need to lift.”
For Wells’ team, spring practices had just begun, with only four practices completed before the NCAA halted all sports from practicing and using facilities. For Wells, this off-season marked the first true off-season for his team, and he said the progress being made was vital to the program’s success down the road.
“Well, year two, in an offensive system, in a defensive system, that with a couple of new coaches, man we need practice, we needed that practice,” Wells said. “We need the remaining practices.”
With spring recruiting and training currently on hold, Wells said he feels like the current summer rules in place work, but if there is a way to increase limits to make up for lost spring opportunities, it will be done fairly.
“I'm sure all those people, they're going to look at what's an equal playing field for everybody,” Wells said. “Can we open it up a little bit more in the summer or not. I believe the rules that are in place right now for our summer for the summer recruiting period for us are very good.”
The American Football Coaches Association, led by executive director Todd Berry, will work with the NCAA to determine if adding extra practice down the line will be an option, Wells said.
“We haven't had those discussions yet but I would assume that that would absolutely be options on the table for them to look at,” Wells said “and consider, do you extend training camp just a little bit or do you give us some days in July.”
While practices and workouts at the team facility are currently off-limits, Wells said that his student-athletes will continue to workout on their own.
“No, they're gonna have to lift and run on their own,” Wells said. “Just because the facility is shut down here for two weeks, and we'll see more in the next few days unfold with what the Big 12 says and what we can do and what we can’t do.”
Despite the small sample size of just four spring practices, Wells said he can use those practices to start evaluating his team. With several graduating starting seniors, Wells said he hasn’t figured out who will start yet among the younger players, but there has been progress.
In his time with football, Wells said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the weirdest spring he’s dealt with, because of all the uncertainty with the virus.
“What we're dealing with is, it's a virus, it's invisible,” Wells said, “It's hard to see and you don't know how long you've had it if somebody gets it. I don't know how, you know, there's just a lot of questions for every one of us.
“I was at the Naval Academy as a young assistant when 911 happened,” he continued. “It is completely different. 911 was destruction. It was visible.You had moments of sadness, to rage, to anger. But you knew who the opponent was and you know what it was and our country rose up together and fought it together and sports were a big part of that.”
With the remaining winter and spring sports cancelled by the Big 12, football will be one of the first Tech Athletics sports to take the field again in the fall. Wells said he is looking forward to the home opener, with the game hopefully serving as relief for sports-starved Red Raider fans.
“That'll be great to unify Red Raider nation and all of our fans who are so passionate and to give them something to look forward to,” Wells said, “but also to give them a good product on the field that's something that they want to come rally around, and I know they will, and we will as well. So we're all in this together.”