Coach Matt Mitchell reacts to the fall 2020 football season cancellation

Zack Goodrow, Sports Editor

GVL / Archive The cancellation of the fall 2020 football season was disappointing to Matt Mitchell and his team. However, he and his players are ready to improve for whenever football returns.

Aug. 12, 2020 marked the end of the Grand Valley State Lakers football season before it even started. Challenges of competing during the COVID-19 pandemic determined the Lakers fate. Financial resources, travel logistics and the safety of players and staff was on the forefront of the minds of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Council. The decision was obviously disheartening for coaches, fans and players.   

“The players were disappointed,” said head coach Matt Mitchell.  “They put a lot of time, effort and energy into preparing for the season. They had developed relationships with coaches and they were disappointed to not play a sport they love.”

While it will be an adjustment for every student at GVSU during this hectic fall semester with the shift to hybrid and online classes, there will be a different challenge for student athletes. For coach Mitchell’s players, they will spend this semester improving as people and students instead of being on the field. 

“They have now shifted gears to next year,” Mitchell said. “They’re excited to spend time improving as a student, in their strength and conditioning, and relationships. For us as a staff, we’re really going to figure out who truly loves football going into next season.”

Before the decision to cancel the season, the NCAA made sure to implement two key choices players could make for the 2020 season. These include player opt-outs for safety concerts and establishing a system to renew player eligibility for cancelled seasons. In terms of opting-out, many players across the NCAA and even the NFL have decided to sit out 2020. For the Lakers, however, the entire team was on board.  

“I think we did a great job in the months leading into August, in terms of keeping the players up to date on safety practices and protocols when playing football,” Mitchell said. “I think they knew there were risks when it came to playing football, but the majority of them thought they were acceptable risks. No one during that time period expressed opting-out. We gave them plenty of opportunities and different alternities when the NCAA was still making their decision.”

Renewing eligibility will be another obstacle for senior players on the team. Some of these Lakers seniors include starting quarterback Cole Kotopka, receiver Brandon Wadley and linebacker Tyler Bradfield. There are many challenges that come with this new eligibility extension. 

“The majority of my seniors want to finish their career at GVSU,” Mitchell said. “They are trying to figure out a way to navigate their education. Here’s the deal for every player in my program: their educational timeline and eligibility timeline no longer match. A lot of seniors are scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester 2020. Now we’re trying to figure out what we have to do to make them eligible to play in fall 2021.” 

The fall semester in 2021 may be the next time the Lakers have a chance to play football again. The GLIAC has stated they will assess the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to sports after Jan. 1, 2021. Spring football may be an option all across the NCAA, but Mitchell is skeptical about that reality coming to fruition. 

“We don’t want to play in the spring,” Mitchell said. “It will be a challenge with the weather in Michigan when games would have to return. Also the turnaround time for our training camp and season in 2021 is not best for our players safety and welfare. Second, with a potential five game schedule in the spring for DII, I don’t see it as beneficial for our players in regards to injury risks in a shortened season. With seniors too, they’re not really playing for much if it is their final season.” 

For now the Lakers football team will still train and build chemistry. They are still a long way away from contact football in terms of conditioning and will have to focus on other aspects of training. The Lakers will of course adhere to the COVID guidelines set forth by GVSU and will bring equipment outside to the field.

“We’re going to focus first on strength and conditioning,” Mitchell said. “We’re looking at some different models to pull that off. Probably the one that’s looking the best right now is conditioning activities outside in the stadium and not putting anyone inside. With that we’ll have smaller groups, social distancing, and we’re going to try to keep five yards of separation.” 

GVSU went 8-3 last season and it will be some time before they hit the field again for competition. Until that time, the team will continue to work and prepare for football games whenever they do come. Like every student at GVSU, they have had to adjust to this foreign fall 2020 semester amidst this pandemic. GVSU football players will focus on classes and training. Mitchell and the rest of his team will have to shift their priorities to the little things including relationships and conditioning, which may pay dividends when football does return.