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Rooney: Eagerly awaited return to play for CU Buffs in hands of Boulder health orders

Football, basketball preseason can’t begin until COVID numbers curbed

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – NOVEMBER 9, 2019: University of Colorado’s Alex Fontenot looks for yardage against Stanford ‘s Andrew Pryts during the November 9, 2019 game in Boulder. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Pac-12 Conference football is back. At least it will be in the foreseeable future.

Exactly how long the Colorado Buffaloes remain on the field, or if they will even reach the proposed Nov. 6 or 7 kickoff dates, might ultimately be less about how quickly the Buffs can get prepped than the whims of University Hill and the directives of Boulder County Public Health.

It might be difficult to sort through CU athletics history to find another day that revealed such polar opposites of news items as what occurred on Thursday. Hours before the Pac-12 made its return to football official — while also announcing the league would join the rest of the nation in aiming for a Nov. 25 start date for men’s and women’s basketball — Boulder County Public Health put a preemptive damper on the party.

Until at least Oct. 8, gatherings in Boulder for all 18 to 22 year olds are banned in hopes of curbing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. The order also included a quarantine directive for 36 University Hill addresses, most of which are sororities and fraternities. For CU, there will be no athletic workouts on campus for at least two weeks.

Even when the Buffs finally get some good news, the one step forward is negated by two steps back.

Already lagging behind their Pac-12 peers thanks to the late hiring of Karl Dorrell and the complete lack of spring practice due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, by the time the Buffs get back on the practice field they will be two weeks further behind their rivals in conditioning drills. Seeing the Buffs line up for the long-delayed opening kickoff to the 2020 season will be a welcome sight at Folsom Field come November, but let’s face it — it could be a rough seven-game schedule for CU.

It should also be said that even completing the seven-game schedule will be a victory of sorts in itself. Through the first three weeks of a college football season that has kicked off in fits and starts (the SEC started play on Saturday; the Mountain West and Mid-American, like the Pac-12, are on the way), 22 games have been either canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Which raises another point about the Pac-12’s likely omission from the College Football Playoff race. In a sequence of events that can only be described as 2020, if any Pac-12 team that makes enough noise to be considered among the nation’s elite, that team might have to secretly cheer for the coronavirus to further scuttle games among the contenders in the other Power Five leagues in order to gain ground and bolster the credibility of a seven-game schedule.

Until Boulder’s quarantine order expires, and assuming it isn’t eventually extended, the Buffs will be unable to even go for long walks in small groups, and certainly will need to avoid any gathering like the one that got the football team in some trouble last week on Mount Sanitas. The CU football and basketball teams also can do little more than cross their fingers that their peers and classmates on the Hill behave appropriately enough to allow their seasons to begin in November as planned.

“It’s a definite inconvenience is what it is, but it’s not something we can’t overcome or get through,” said CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle, whose club will have about a week between the possible Oct. 8 expiration of the on-campus gatherings directive and the start of preseason practices. “We just have to deal with it as best as we can and work our way through it. That’s all that we can do. But I can say this with conviction, that our guys are acting with utmost responsibility and are doing everything that has been asked of them. They want to play.”