The Gophers have added a new measure to their football position meetings: meditation.
"What I want them to do is focus on now, mentally, emotionally. Now," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. " … This virus is so humbling, and each day, there's more and more knowledge, that if you start thinking three, four weeks ahead, it's going to blow your mind."
Even since Fleck met with the media on a video call Friday, the outlook for a fall football season has changed. The Mid-American Conference became the first FBS league to cancel its fall sports, postponing all competition until spring.
Yahoo Sports reported there's support among a few Big Ten presidents to cancel fall sports. And the Big Ten announced Saturday no teams can progress to full-padded practices until further notice, despite only just allowing training camps to open Friday.
"We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all," the Big Ten's statement read. "As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes."
That illustrates Fleck's point of how easy it is to spiral into a pit of uncertainty and worry. And while staying in the moment is an admirable goal, it might be an even tougher task for the Gophers specifically.
In 2019, the Gophers put together a historically good year. An 11-2 record — with wins against No. 4 Penn State and No. 12 Auburn — was their best since 1904. They finished at No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll, the highest since 1962, the era of the Gophers' two Rose Bowl appearances.
The team sold out its final two home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, losing the latter to fall one win short of the Big Ten Championship Game. The Gophers boasted the third-largest average attendance increase from the season prior in FBS, jumping from 37,915 in 2018 to 46,190 in 2019.
Fleck received a new seven-year contract and headed into his fourth season with almost his entire offense intact — minus graduated running back Rodney Smith and receiver Tyler Johnson — and many rising stars on defense. Quarterback Tanner Morgan set single-season passing records for yards (3,253) and touchdowns (30), and receiver Rashod Bateman was the Big Ten Receiver of the Year, averaging more than 20 yards per catch.
But Bateman opted out of the season on Tuesday, turning his attention to the 2021 NFL draft, where he's a projected first-rounder. The next day several other Gophers, including All-Big Ten honorable mention cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, released an open letter listing demands to the conference and NCAA for better care of players' well-being during a pandemic.
And now the Gophers, who seemed ready to rise higher after years of mediocrity, might plateau, thanks to a push from the coronavirus.
The Gophers hope to still play the 10-game conference season with few or no fans in attendance. That gives Morgan and the depth receivers a chance to prove there's still a chance at success without Bateman and Johnson.
But the ever-increasing reality is there might not be a season at all. Even a spring season could see the Gophers lose even more players to opt-outs with the NFL draft in April.
Minnesota sports fans might feel like this is another example of the universe conspiring against them, just when the Gophers were on the rise.
But Fleck isn't thinking much at all about opportunities lost. In fact, his duties have temporarily changed from helping a team be good to helping a team be well.
"This year, when you look at it, my job is going to be able to make our team the healthiest team on the field, the safest team on the field and the most prepared team on the field," Fleck said. "But football is going to come back seat to the safety. Period."