'Everybody needs to see football': Gundy determined for football to return to campus despite pandemic

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In a media teleconference, OSU coach Mike Gundy discussed his ideas about bringing his team back to campus for football practices. The Big 12 has prohibited practices until May 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the midst of a global health crisis, Mike Gundy insisted fans and the economy will need football season.

Gundy, the Oklahoma State football coach, has brainstormed a strategy for bringing his team back to campus despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is no official plan.

He said he hadn’t discussed his idea with Burns Hargis, OSU’s president. He hadn’t talked about it with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

Instead, he shared his plan during a media teleconference that lasted about an hour Tuesday morning. Gundy said starting May 1, staff members would undergo testing for COVID-19 and return to work if they were healthy. Next, the players would trickle back onto campus. He said he isn't 100% sure it can happen, but it's his idea.

“In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them, they’re in good shape, “ Gundy said. “They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 years old. They’re healthy, a lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and build-up they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic.”

This comment, along with Gundy’s general message, received its share of unfavorable responses. The headline of Dan Wolken’s USA Today column about the situation reads “Opinion: Mike Gundy’s latest ridiculous comments out of touch with reality of coronavirus,” and Pat Forde wrote a Sports Illustrated column that sarcastically referred to Gundy as “Noted Expert.”

On Tuesday evening, OSU issued a statement in reaction to the ideas Gundy discussed. The statement did not include any quotes from Gundy, but it said the university will follow the counsel of public health specialists and will obey directives from the federal government, the state government and the Big 12. Stillwater is under a shelter-in-place order that is effective until April 16, and the Big 12 has prohibited in-person team activities, including practices, until May 31.

“We will not compromise the health and well-being of our campus community,” OSU’s statement said. “This virus is deadly and we will do our part at Oklahoma State to help blunt the spread.”

Gundy said he would be willing for players to be sequestered on campus after they are tested if that’s what it takes for them to safely return to football practice. The NCAA has a rule against providing dormitories for only student-athletes, but Gundy advocated for undoing this regulation.

“That rule’s got to go out the window,” Gundy said. “Here’s why. Because we’ve never been in a situation like this.”

Gundy also said the Cowboys would play in empty stadiums if necessary. Despite the rapid changes across the globe because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gundy emphasized his determination in making sure football games can happen.

“Everybody needs to see football,” Gundy said. “Even if you just watch it on TV, it’s going to make people feel better, OK?”

“…We’re trying to find a way to pay everybody’s salary and keep the economy going, because if you’re paying salaries and people are working, then you’re keeping the economy going, and it gives us the best chance as a state to stay on our feet. So yes, if you have to play with zero people (in the stands), which I don’t think is going to happen, yes, you play.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com