Missouri State remains optimistic about its season-opening football game at Oklahoma.
Kyle Moats, the FCS school’s athletic director, has been monitoring things through the pandemic and is still aiming that the nonconference contest will be played on Sept. 5.
“I’m a huge college football fan,” Moats said. “People look to college football (in the fall). That’s really kind of a benchmark. When things go well and there’s pride in your alumni, it’s because of your football games.
“Knowing that you can have football lends us to believe that everything’s going to be OK and that we’re going to get through this thing.”
The game was set by Moats and OU athletics director Joe Castiglione. They’ve had a friendship that started when Castiglione worked at Missouri and Moats was at Kentucky more than 25 years ago.
The Springfield school needed a “buy” game, which helps that athletic department’s bottom line. Moats said he called his Oklahoma counterpart every year because he felt that it was a game aided by proximity and it would be an experience for Missouri State’s players.
Moats said he was “ecstatic” when OU agreed to a one-game contract. Missouri State will be paid $600,000 for the nonconference contest, which he called a “very big, very important part of our budget.”
Moats said he took a conservative stance early in the pandemic and didn’t budget the money into next year’s books because he wasn’t sure that the game would happen. He still has models that his school won’t get the guarantee “but I’m certainly anticipating that we’re going to play the game and therefore get that guarantee.”
Over the next two months, what is Moats’ biggest concern?
“It’s just making sure that we manage the best that we can,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do and we adhere to the policy that we have, then I think we have a pretty good chance of being healthy. And that’s the biggest concern – making sure our kids are healthy. And from that perspective, I know the football part will take care of itself.”
The Bears didn’t have a spring football session under first-year coach Bobby Petrino, but started filtering back to campus shortly after the June 1 date allowed by the NCAA. Seventy-six players returned and all tested negative for COVID-19, Moats said. By comparison, Oklahoma’s players will return to campus on July 1.
Petrino and his coaching staff are still unfamiliar with their personnel.
“It’s been extraordinarily frustrating and difficult for him,” Moats said. “He didn’t have spring practice and he didn’t get to be around them too much except to look at film as to what they did last year. He’s been hamstrung based upon what he can do.
“But he also understands the health and safety. If we go backwards, that’s not going to help either. It’s a fine line and I know he’s in it for the long haul. But he’s like any coach, I can tell you. Any coach is anxious and wants to get with their players and have them around and work with them.”
After the pandemic shut down schools in March, OU coach Lincoln Riley said by September, the nation would need college football.
Moats seems to agree.
“Once we get college football going, there will be so much excitement to the college atmosphere,” Moats said. “The university, academics, the band and all the good things about education … I think it’s really important that we get it up and going.
“It’s a huge boost just for our confidence and to believe that we’re going to get things back on track. It’s really important aside from the fact about the economics – which I don’t want to get into because it’s self-explanatory and we need to have it. But I think all the other intangibles are really important as well.”