CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois football head coach Lovie Smith still wants his team to play.
His team practiced Tuesday morning before the Big Ten Conference postponed the fall sports season.
Smith said he has been in meetings with Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman, making plans for any possible scenario — including a spring season.
“We talked about every imaginable thing that could happen,” Smith said prior to the announcement. “We talked about if there’s a stoppage right now, our schedule this year was kind of set up for that. If someone tests positive, we have a schedule for that. If we can’t play this fall, we have a schedule. Next, you look to the spring and after that we’re going to keep going. Eventually we’re going to play football.”
While they have plans prepared, the trouble lies in how they are carried out.
As a member of the Big Ten, Smith said administrators are working together and following the plans of what the conference wants to do, unlike Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, who suggested otherwise on Monday.
“We have an Illinois family that we’re a part of,” Smith said, “but we’re part of the Big Ten family too. We want to help as much as we possibly can for our conference.”
The team had a good practice this morning, he noted. He emphasized that all of the players that practiced Tuesday were ready to play this fall when the season was scheduled to kick off Sept. 3 against Ohio State.
“If a player didn’t want to play this year, he has opted out already,” Smith said. “The guys that are here right now want to practice, want to play.”
Based on the current information, he has repeatedly said that it is safe to practice and to play right now — especially in Champaign where the players are tested daily. If it wasn’t, he would put the practices on pause.
“People ask, ‘Would you put your son in that position?’ My son coaches. He’s out there with me right now. He’s on the field. I think it’s safe what we’re doing,” Smith said.
However, there has not been any “strong evidence” that would cause the practices to be stopped.
Communication is key throughout all of the pandemic and Smith wants to make sure everyone is on the same page. His players are active on social media and watching the news, but Smith helps them sort through the facts by telling them what he knows.
“I try to give our players as much factual information as I can on what I know. A lot of times it’s not as much as the guys would like to know, but our players are just like everybody else. They want to know for sure what we’re gonna do.”
With the season postponed, he believes that everyone will think it is worth waiting for.
“We have a lot of guys that have worked hard for their senior year,” Smith said. “They want to play their senior year. They are patient enough to wait if that is the case.”