Although the COVID-19 issues that plagued the Hokies early on this season seem to be put to rest, the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the Virginia Tech program and college football as a whole.
“Everybody is dealing with it and doing everything possible to make it as safe as we can for everyone involved,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said. “If we find a way to navigate through it and these kids get to play ball, although it’s under unfamiliar circumstances, and everyone is healthy, I would say it deserves an attaboy.”
With the Hokies’ opponent this week, Pittsburgh, having shut down football activities last week, COVID may directly impact Tech’s schedule for the third time this season. However, there are plenty of other coronavirus issues that could impact the program down the road.
Effects on Recruiting Could Linger
With early signing day approaching quickly, the Hokies’ recruiting efforts are still being hindered by the coronavirus. Recruits can’t visit Blacksburg and Tech’s coaches are forced to do everything virtually.
“This class coming up has certainly been cumbersome and a burden. What has recruiting looked like? It’s all virtual,” Fuente said. “I think it’s going to have an even bigger effect on the next class. Hopefully, the good lord willing, we’ll get this thing cleared up.”
The issues haven’t been solely on the recruiting side, but it’s been much tougher for the coaching staff to evaluate players. All they have to work off of is film and these virtual meetings that don’t show the entire picture.
“I get worried about the evaluation part. We can’t go watch them play or go watch them play basketball, which I get. I’m not lobbying to go out right now, but for me, with all of the things that are going down, the evaluation part is going to be very important,” Fuente said. “We need to evaluate their character and their work ethic and how they play and compete. We’re essentially losing all of that. There’s only so much we can see on film.”
The good news is that plenty of 2021 players were able to get on campus, but younger players may not have had that opportunity yet. There is hope that the pandemic will ease over the next few months, but there is no guarantee that recruiting will return to normal anytime soon.
“I think recruiting will probably change no matter what, to what extent, I’m not sure. Hopefully, at some point, we can get back to getting kids on campus,” Fuente said. “It’s a long way away, I think it does have an effect, but not a huge effect. The lingering effects for the next class could be large.”
The 2020 Postseason is Still Up in the Air
The college football season as a whole has been disjointed with some leagues like the ACC deciding to start on-time, others starting late, and some deciding halfway through the season to play. As the stretch-run approaches for the Hokies and the rest of the country, the postseason picture still looks very foggy.
“Everybody is at a different point throughout the country. It’s just really remarkable. We feel like we have been practicing and playing for a long, long time. We haven’t had a bye week. I know our first game was postponed, but that was not a bye week,” Fuente said. “We didn’t have anybody here basically. I’m pleased that we’ve been able to pull it off in a safe manner to some extent to this point. I think everybody knew that there was going to be bumps in the road.”
With every league in a different spot and COVID protocols dominating the sport, there could be a thought that some teams will opt to not play in the postseason. The question many coaches have to be asking is, is possibly playing in a bowl game worth another month of constant anxiety about the coronavirus.
“That is certainly something that I think will be discussed as we get closer to it. I don’t know what it’s going to look like to be honest with you. I don’t know how everybody is going to feel. I do know that football games are precious, and opportunities are precious,” Fuente said. “I guess when we get a little closer to the end of that, we’ll have a little better feel. I don’t really know what everyone is planning on doing, to be honest with you. I don’t know.”
The Hokies have to deal with these questions with less than a month left in the season. While dealing with the coronavirus, Tech also has to figure out how to turn things around, sitting at .500 on the season.
“I’m just going to tell you, when you take the field it counts, whether it’s during a pandemic or not. We all know that. These are unique circumstances. I feel like the majority of the kids across the country want to play, so that’s what we’re doing,” Fuente said. “You have to understand, when you take the field, whether it’s pandemic or you’ve got guys out or whatever it is, they’re going to keep scoring and it’s going to count.“