West Virginia’s season opener on Sept. 12 will be played in front of an empty Milan Puskar Stadium, but WVU has indicated there is a possibility that fans will be allowed for later matchups in the season. Whether that happens or not depends on the path the COVID-19 pandemic takes in both Morgantown and Big 12 country as a whole.
WVU’s initial coronavirus numbers haven’t been too alarming as its students are returning to campus. As of Aug. 20, the University has seen 107 positive tests dating back to July 21 for a positive rate of 0.55 percent.
What did raise alarms, however, was a series of off-campus parties and gatherings over the weekend, many of which were reported to WVU Student Conduct and University Police.
“It’s tough,” said Vince Blankenship, WVU football’s head trainer. “You’re asking 18-22 year olds to act like they’re my age, just go to work and go home and not do the extracurriculars really.”
Blankenship has taken a lead role in keeping the team safe and educated on coronavirus risk and prevention since the pandemic began impacting college athletics in March. On top of all of the measures implemented at team facilities, he has made sure Mountaineer student-athletes are doing what they need to stay safe around town and on campus so they can preserve their football season.
“What I’ve really tried to touch on with our guys is, fair or not, you’re the most recognizable people in the state, you’re the most recognizable people on this campus, people are going to look to you to see what you are doing,” Blankenship explained. “You can be leaders in this, you can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, and I think that’s really hit home with our guys and our staff.”
The football team’s numbers seem to agree with Blankenship. Since the start of fall camp, the Mountaineers have had no additional positive tests — a massive improvement from the first part of the summer when they saw a total of 28 positives. The controlled environment provided by staff is only limited to the team and its facilities, however, and WVU’s players are conscious of that.
“[We talk about] being part of the solution of COVID, not part of the problem of the spread,” Blankenship said. “Like I said, their social media accounts speak for that. There’s always guys putting out stuff about wearing a mask and being safe and social distancing, and I think that guys have really bought into that.”
Presumably disappointed about WVU’s announcement of a season opener without spectators, wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton took to Twitter to give fans his advice.
“If you want to attend football games later this season,” he tweeted, “start with wearing a mask and not having 100+ people in a house party.”
That message was shared by several of his teammates, including cornerback Nicktroy Fortune and defensive lineman Dante Stills.
It’s efforts like these that Blankenship says will keep the 2020 season going.
“It’s been good, they’ve really bought in and we appreciate it,” he said. “It makes football happen, really, the things that they do.”