BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said Virginia starting Phase 1 of the reopening process last week is just the latest of the “unique challenges” his staff has faced this semester.
Fuente is two months removed from sending most of his players home as the campus moved to essential operations status in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The athletic facilities were closed and the university only allowed on-site housing and dining services for students that met certain criteria.
Some players did end up staying on campus, but much of the roster spread out across more than a dozen states. Fuente and his staff now have to keep track of how each of those localities are reopening.
“I think that’s all the uniqueness of this problem is it’s not uniform,” Fuente said. “It’s regional, it’s urban versus rural. There’s just a lot of different dynamics to what we’re dealing with and it’s at times difficult to wrap your mind around.”
Tech has players in states like Tennessee and Georgia that relaxed stay-at-home orders on April 30. The team has eight players from Florida, which opened back up on May 4, but the Hokies have some student-athletes in states that are keeping their stay-at-home orders in place through the start of June.
Fuente credited Virginia Tech’s chief medical officer Mark Rodgers and associate athletics director for sports medicine Mike Goforth for helping communicate the right information to players.
“We just try to keep them up to date on what’s going on and basically have weekly reminders, or in our meeting we cover some bullet points that are about finals or about health and safety or the calendar we think may happen,” Fuente said. “I try not to get into speculation with our team. I try to just deal in what I know is true.”
That means Fuente continues to avoid speculating with his players about when the team will be allowed back on campus.
ACC commissioner John Swofford sounded optimistic about the 2020 season when he spoke to reporters last week after the conference held virtual spring meetings, but he didn't outline a timeline for when athletic activities will start back up.
The conference canceled activities through the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
“I think they’d rather be here,” Fuente said of his team. “I don’t say that in a critical way. We’re all to that point where we’re all anxious and I think the uncertainty of it all is what weighs on us the heaviest. The kids are doing well, they’re staying strong, they’re resilient and they’re anxious to get back with their teammates.”
Fuente sighed when he asked directly if the 2020 season will take place.
“I wish I knew,” Fuente said. “I’m optimistic. I’ll say that. I’m not sure why, but I am. I don’t know if it’s just because I know how bad our players want it. I understand public health and safety is the foremost on everybody’s mind, and it should be, but i just feel like we’ll figure out a way to get to do this hopefully.”