Whit Babcock On COVID-19 And The Impact On Virginia Tech

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Whit Babcock, Virginia Tech
Athletic Directors like Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock have no idea what the landscape of college athletics will look like in a few months. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock and head coach Justin Fuente addressed the media via a teleconference on Wednesday afternoon for the first time since COVID-19 has swept across the nation. 

Among a variety of subjects covered was the outlook for the 2020 football season. Kirk Herbstreit made headlines two weeks ago when he noted he would be shocked if there was a college football season this fall.

It awakened everyone to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season. Discussions have been ongoing between AD’s and committees about the different sort of outcomes that could be seen in the upcoming year for the start of college football. 

“The state of operations in the fall is unknown not just for football, but for the whole university and the country,” Babcock said. “If nothing else, this time period gives us every opportunity to plan and not get ahead of ourselves on that. Yes, we are also working with the ACC. We have a committee there that’s looking at if things are clear by this date, what can we do or if things are clear by this date then what can we do. 

“Everyone is trying to play a full football season if it’s safe. Those dates get shifted on the season, but yes, there has been modeling of the entire season, shortened season, and everyone right now is interested in playing that full season anyway possible, but we realize that could change.”

Virginia Tech has had to go ahead with business as usual during this time, continuing to sell season tickets and push for Hokie Scholarship Fund donations through the deadline of April 30. Despite the precarious circumstances surrounding the upcoming season, Babock and other ACC schools are pleasantly surprised with sales so far.

“You can’t go much longer than April 30 because ordering the tickets and the logistics that go into it and getting them out,” Babcock said. “This is a new normal that we’re all getting used to. I do know that one of these days football will be back, and it will serve as a great rallying point like it’s done in the past at Virginia Tech.”

When football returns is still to be determined. Would the sport go as far as to play without fans? That would seem like a ludicrous solution if someone offered the thought of it months ago, but March Madness nearly saw it come to fruition before the eventual cancellation. 

“I would lean toward if it’s not safe enough for fans and students to come back, I would have a hard time operating a football game under that premise,” Babcock said. “If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that things change very rapidly, so that’s not off the table. I believe we would look toward pushing it back, starting the season later.”

How far back could the Hokies and others start the college football season? Simply from a financial standpoint, many if not all colleges need football, so athletic directors would be willing to push it back even if it spread into other sport’s seasons.

“We would be open to shifting the season even if it overlaps with other sports,” Babcock said. “Is football the most important thing in the world in this deal? Absolutely not, but all of us at Tech, we have one sport that generates revenue. We have one sport that breaks even. And we have 20 that operate off what football generates. Football is important for football’s sake, but for the entire student-athlete experience in every sport, football is critical.”

It’s all such a fluid situation as it exists right now. In the meantime, Fuente and Co. have lost spring practice. Tech is deprived of this time to learn any new schemes that defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton may want to install, but the Hokies do return 10 starters on this side of the ball.

As the rule currently stands, the staff can talk to players up to four hours per week through virtual position meetings. Players and coaches alike are anxiously waiting for the call relaying when they can return to the practice field. The calendar’s unclear right now, but once the schedule is settled, there needs to be some lead time for teams to get back in pads to prepare for the start of the season.

“I know times have changed. Now, our kids are traditionally here all summer working out and the day we start fall camp, they’re in great shape,” Fuente said. “Having a little bit of time to get them into shape and ready for the first game would be great. I’d like to have as much time as possible. If we had to do it in a month and the alternative was not doing it at all, I think we could find a way to make it work.”

Until then, Virginia Tech’s coaches and staff have been active on social media waiting for the time to pass. Darryl Tapp, Beau Davidson, and Hamilton have shown their personalities, using Twitter as a recruiting tool. The normally stoic Fuente even got in on the action last Saturday.

“As far as me in particular, I’m not all over that stuff,” Fuente said. “I did step on there the other day just to interact with everyone. We’re in the middle of unprecedented times. I didn’t do it for any other reason than to interact with some people during an odd time. We’re all in this together. I did enjoy it, it was fun, and I had some good, interesting conversations.”

Everyone across the country is stuck playing this waiting game. The pandemic is far from over, but truth be told, all options will be considered to make sure the 2020 college football season happens in one aspect or another.

“We also want to play football if it’s on the moon in January,” Babcock said.

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