Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck understand that this is a year unlike any other in the history of sports.
But the fact is both the NFL and NCAA are really putting the local head coaches in a bind because there is no consensus on what is or isn’t allowed for each team or conference.
It’s a much bigger deal for Fleck, who will not have a season this year while teams in the Big 12, SEC and ACC play.
And while Fleck and university leaders are more concerned with player safety and limiting crowds on campus, it’s unfair to the conferences choosing not to play when it comes to player development or recruiting.
Missing a season is going to put a lot of stress on Gophers players and coaches, who will have to invent a whole new approach to keep their players involved and developing this season, while teams in other conferences continue to play and go through game-week routines.
For Zimmer, it’s a different problem. The NFL will play as many scheduled games as possible this season, starting Sept. 10 with the Texans traveling to Kansas City to face the Chiefs.
The big question for the Vikings coach is about crowds — what teams will allow fans to attend games and how many.
The Vikings announced this week that for at least the first two home games of the 2020 schedule — the season opener Sept. 13 against the Packers and their Week 3 contest against the Titans — fans will not be allowed inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
But for the Vikings’ first road game at Indianapolis on Sept. 20, fans will be allowed inside the stadium.
The Colts are planning to have 25% capacity at Lucas Oil Stadium (about 16,750 fans).
The Vikings play at Houston in Week 4 (Oct. 4). The Texans don’t plan to have fans in attendance for their home opener, but might allow fans by the time they face the Vikings.
The Vikings’ Week 5 game at Seattle (Oct. 11) will not have fans. But it’s unclear if fans will be allowed for the next two road games, in Week 8 at Green Bay (Nov. 1) or Week 10 at Chicago (Nov. 16).
The Vikings travel to Tampa Bay in Week 14 (Dec. 13) to face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, who are planning to allow fans in the stadium. The crowd situation is unclear for their final two road games of the regular season, at New Orleans (Dec. 25) and Detroit (Jan. 3).
As long as teams are making up their own rules about allowing fans, the NFL is going to face accusations of unfair advantages. It’s hard for people to understand why the Colts should allow fans into games, when Indiana has been harder hit by the coronavirus than Minnesota. Indiana has reported over 91,000 cases and 3,200 deaths, according to the state department of health. Minnesota has reported over 71,000 cases and 1,800 deaths.
So it’s easy to see why Zimmer is upset the NFL isn’t making standard rules across the league.
Players and families
Fleck said last week at his news conference that the Gophers have to focus on more than only the coronavirus and the health of their players. A lot of them are coping with tough family situations as well.
“These young people are dealing with so many stressors in their life right now, so many,” Fleck said. “These are student-athletes. And I know everybody wants to talk about them becoming professionals and everything else, and that’s a topic for another day and I get it. But they’re 18- to 22-year-old young men who are dealing with a national/world pandemic that no one has ever dealt with that is affecting them in their sport. It’s affecting their academics, it’s affecting their sick mom or dad with cancer at home, it’s affecting their relationship with them of how much they can be around them, right?
“It’s not just about how many kids tested positive. That’s what everybody keeps talking about, ‘We only had one or two kids test positive.’ That’s good. That means guys are doing what they’re supposed to do. But we were thinking bigger than that. We’re thinking about their family members and their grandfathers and their grandmothers — in some cases their grandmas and grandpas raised them. We’re thinking about everyone in this world, in this nation and the people close to our kids.
“Because we don’t create a bubble. You do everything you can to create a synthetic bubble, but they’re kids. Are you going to tell these parents they can’t see their kid? So we have to create the safest environment possible, make sure we listen to our safety professionals and as we continue to move forward, we need to communicate and be open and know that change is inevitable. But the mental health of these kids is incredibly important.”
• ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay ranked former Minneapolis South standout Elerson Smith as the No. 10 outside linebacker prospect in the 2021 NFL draft. Smith, who plays on the defensive line for Northern Iowa, had 7½ sacks in 13 games as a redshirt junior last season. McShay also had two Gophers ranked in the top 10: Rashod Bateman, who has opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft, was rated No. 2 at wide receiver Tanner Morgan was No. 7 at quarterback.
• Forbes Magazine ran a list of the top professional sports cities in America, and Minneapolis came in fifth behind Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago. The rankings were determined using attendance, TV ratings and social media followers.
• Former Twins prospect Daniel Palka is now playing for the Samsung Lions, and he hit the winning home run Tuesday in his second game in South Korea. Palka hit 27 home runs and was fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting with the White Sox in 2018, but he hit only .107 in 30 games for Chicago in 2019 and was released by the organization at the end of July.
• The Wild traded Alex Tuch to the Vegas Golden Knights back in 2017, and that decision is looking questionable. The former first-round pick has scored a goal in three consecutive games for Vegas, who are tied 1-1 with Vancouver in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Tuch leads Vegas with six goals in the postseason. … Also with Vegas is former Gophers defenseman and St. Cloud native Nate Schmidt, who has six points in 10 playoff games.