CARBONDALE — Once SIU's fall football season fell off a cliff last week, coach Nick Hill and his staff turned their attention to getting their squad through an extended 2020-21 season.
In less than seven days, the Salukis went from a full Missouri Valley Football Conference slate and three non-conference games to preparing for the first spring season in school history. The once-in-a-lifetime coronavirus pandemic, an unusual fall schedule that could change in the next two weeks, and the bubble, finally had to give a little in order for the team to find some normalcy, Hill said.
"Nobody's got a playbook for it, and I think that what gets lost in all of this, we want to play or we don't want to play, there's a lot of unknowns for these kids. And the longer that you go in all of this unknown, it creates a lot of anxiety, and a lot of, sometimes, depression," Hill said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. "We're able to give them 12-month calendars, what to expect, when are your days off, here is when you get to go home for a break. This is across the country. Bring everybody back, and it's, like, you gotta stay in this bubble."
Last weekend, Hill said he allowed players who wanted to go home to do so and leave the athletic department's campus bubble. Out of more than 900 COVID-19 tests since June, SIU has had only five positive cases, two being athletes. Hill said the team, which had stopped full practices when the MVFC postponed its league season, will ease back into what it would normally do during the offseason with classes in session. He was not sure when the Valley would release its spring schedule or what the NCAA might allow them to do this fall when they don't have games but other FCS teams do.
Hill, a former quarterback at SIU, was sure his team needed some normalcy in this unusual year.
"You've got a couple days off, think back whenever you were 19, or maybe you're a freshman sittin' in the dorms and you had to quarantine for the first 14 days you were here, and you want to go see your family but can't. Those walls start shrinkin' in on ya over at the dorm, so, we were able to let 'em go home," Hill said. "They've come back now. We've got school starting. The players that went home, they've gotta start their isolation period and get re-tested on Friday, and then the guys that stayed here, which, there's about 30 of 'em, we're in workouts and things like that for this week."
The MVFC postponed its league schedule to the spring Aug. 7, and Kansas pulled out of its scheduled opener against SIU five days later. UT Martin and the Salukis agreed to postpone their game to the 2025 season, and when the Ohio Valley Conference pushed its league schedule to next spring Aug. 14, Southeast Missouri State decided its one game left for the fall, at SIU, wasn't worth pursuing.
For now, the Salukis will concentrate on their biggest hurdle in August, their academics, and plan for the rest once they have something to plan.
"School is different. Some are online. Some are hybrid," Hill said. "Some are online but you gotta be on Zoom at the correct time, so, as coaches, we're putting academics first, and we have an opportunity to grow. And I think that change is inevitable, and growth is optional, and right now we've gotta choose that we're going to grow and get better from this time. That's where our mindset is. I know that's where my mindset is."
On Twitter: @THefferman