At the end of a 30-minute Zoom call with local reporters Tuesday morning, Tom Allen could’ve disconnected. Indiana football sports information director Jeff Keag stepped in to end the teleconference after Allen answered the final question, but the IU coach wasn’t quite finished. Instead of leaving the chat, Allen launched into a plea.
“I just want to encourage everybody to wear their masks, socially distance and do everything that we can to help keep those around us safe,” Allen said. “(From there), we’ll be able to get to doing the things we love to do.”
For Allen, that means coaching college football. And right now, with COVID-19 cases surging nationally, it’s not certain he’ll have the opportunity to do that this fall. But Allen — at least publicly — remains hopeful that there will be a season-opening kickoff this September.
He also admits there are still more questions than answers.
“We thought that when this process was early in its stages that, by this time, we would have a lot more answers,” Allen said. “But we don’t, unfortunately. To me, I’m optimistic about us starting our season. I am. I know that there’s a lot of question marks still out there, but I believe that we will start our season. I believe we will start our season on time. I do.”
Time will tell, of course. So far, Indiana has fared relatively well in its COVID-19 testing regimen since re-opening the athletics campus for voluntary workouts last month. The athletic department administered 299 tests between June 9 and July 8, with only four returning positive results. Allen declined to say whether any of those positive cases were found in his program.
Over the past two-plus weeks, Indiana has been in Phase II of its restart plan, which allows Allen’s players to pass and share the ball with teammates, and workout in larger groups, both on the field and in the weight room. At the same time, there are still no in-person position meetings for players — those are done over Zoom — and coaches are forced to split time between teleconferencing and meeting in small groups.
The ultimate goal is to bring the whole team back together at the same time for preseason practices later this summer. In the meantime, Allen and his assistants are sending regular bulletins to players, reminding them to socially distance outside the facility, avoid parties and stay away from indoor events where large groups are congregating.
“It’s constant,” Allen said. “Constant reminders. We’ve had some situations where we found out they weren’t doing that and we had to get all over them. All you got to do is look on social media and see people still kind of refuse to follow it, which is frustrating. It’s having more implications in certain parts of the country and numbers are reflecting that. I hope that they will listen and, once again, it’s about being unselfish.
“It’s about deciding I’m going to put my team in front of me and the desire to want to play this fall in front of my own personal desire to go out and ‘have a good time.’ You’ve got to make some sacrifices.”
Then again, no one should have to sacrifice their health. Allen says he’s on board with the Big Ten’s scholarship guarantee for players who wish to opt-out of the upcoming season. To date, no Hoosier football players have chosen to do so. At least one player, however, has approached Allen asking for more details about the league’s opt-out waiver.
“I don’t know that it’s a major question guys have had, but it’s definitely something that is there,” Allen said. “We’ll keep an eye on that and we want them to feel very comfortable with what we’re doing. We believe in the medical professionals that we have here at IU and not just the way they’re leading here on our campus, but the whole Big Ten. I think that’s part of it. It gives them confidence. It gives me confidence. Even though we don’t know everything about what the future holds, we have very, very high level protocols that we’re following right now.”
The question Allen can’t answer, is whether those protocols will be enough.
“I know there’s a national concern,” he said. “I see everything just like everybody else does. I know the numbers and the direction they’re going at this point. It isn’t as positive as we’d like for it to be. We’re continuing to take that information, with player safety and their well-being at the top of the priority list. It’s not going to change, no matter what, no matter how bad we want to play. And we (do). Our players want to play. We all want to play. We’re not going to put them at risk of something that would be a bad thing.”