Eastern Kentucky University football team has made plans to play eight non-conference games and has opted out of the Ohio Valley Conference spring schedule.
“We plan to move forward with a full football schedule, more than four games,” Director of Athletics Matt Roan said during a press conference to selected media on Friday, Aug. 21. “We thought there would be too much of a burden for the spring schedule and for the student athletes to play 16 games.”
The OVC recommended on Aug. 14 that teams can play up to four non-conference games this fall and then play conference games in the spring, but EKU has decided to play an eight-game fall season due to the uncertainty about the pandemic in the spring.
Roan noted things could change.
“This schedule has to come with grace and flexibility,” he said. “There is too much uncertainty right now and with a spring schedule.”
Despite the changes to the schedule, Roan ensures that the main focus of the athletics department is student athletes safety.
After administering 137 COVID tests Wednesday, Aug. 19, two came back positive, bringing the total number of cases in athletics to 35. Roan said athletics would continue to do weekly testing and keep track of the results.
In a situation where a student athlete decides to opt out of playing, they will still be eligible for an extra year to play. They must play in less than 50 percent of the games in the year they opted out to be eligible for an extra season.
Head coach Walt Wells is preparing his team for the new schedule, which will start on the road at Marshall University on Sept. 5.
“I’m looking forward to leading this team onto the field at Marshall on Sept. 5,” Wells said in a press release. “I want to thank our administration for working so hard to ensure our players have an outstanding experience this season in an environment that stresses their well-being and safety.”
According to Roan, athletics has extended its safety protocols and testing in order to better protect student athletes and in order to get them a fall schedule.
“There are at least eight (non-conference play) opportunities, and we will continue to look for more,” Roan said.
With the home games coming up, there is still concern about the protocols and rules. Roan stated that there would only be 25 percent capacity for fans, with masks and social distancing involved.
He said that all decisions - and potential future decisions - have been in accordance with guidelines from the Governor's office and other health officials.
“We are trying to navigate this as best as we can,” Roan said.
The Colonels will host Central Arkansas on Oct. 10, Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 7 and Western Carolina on Nov. 21 at Roy Kidd Stadium.
EKU will have five road games this fall at Marshall, West Virginia University, The Citadel, Troy and Central Arkansas.
“Our game guarantees just don’t go to support football,” Roan said. “They support all 16 teams. We will generate about $1,000,000 for this, but in no way was that the driving force. There will be added expenses to host the games.”
EKU will face The Citadel, Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin for the first time in program history. EKU’s most recent meeting with Troy came in the season-opener of the 1997 season.
The Colonels and Western Carolina have met five times, with EKU holding a 3-2 edge in the series. The most recent match-up came in 2009 when the Catamounts beat EKU, 24-7, at Roy Kidd Stadium.