Dayton football coach Rick Chamberlin poses for a photo with his team during ESPN’s College GameDay at the Frericks Center in Dayton on Saturday, March 7, 2020. David Jablonski/Staff

UD’s Chamberlin: ‘Priority is the health and safety of your players’

Flyers cancel season opener because they didn’t feel they would have enough time in preseason

Dayton Flyers football players learned last week on a Zoom call they might not get to play their season opener. They got the news officially on Monday.

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The University of Dayton and Southeast Missouri State University announced the cancellation of their game Sept. 3 in Cape Girardeau, Mo., because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are disappointed,” Dayton coach Rick Chamberlin said. “We only have so many games. You don’t want to take any away. But throughout college football, the top priority is the health and safety of your players.”

While it was announced as joint decision, UD started the talks about cancelling the game, and SEMO wants to find an opponent to replace Dayton on Sept. 3. Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said he first reached out to SEMO AD, Brady Barke, in April — and did the same with ADs of non-conference opponents in other sports — just to open a line of communication in case a decision like this had to be made.

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The biggest reason Dayton wanted to cancel the game was it didn’t think its players would have enough preseason training time to get ready. The NCAA approved a six-week preseason period that can begin July 24, but Dayton’s athletes won’t return to campus until Aug. 8. The university plans a phased move-in for students from Aug. 8-23.

In a typical year, all 110 football players would report to campus on the same day, move in, have team meetings, undergo physicals and start practice the next day. That won’t happen this year, Chamberlin said. It may be several days, if not more, after Aug. 8 before the team can practice.

“Looking at the process we were going to have to go through at camp, it’s not going to be a typical camp,” Chamberlin said. “With all the different protocols and physicals we’ve got to do, it was going to push back the time we can actually be on the field to get ready for that first game. You only have so many practices. The decision by Neil and myself and our medical people, it just didn’t seem like we could get properly ready for that first game of the season. We didn’t want to put our players at a physical disadvantage going into that first game, and that was the concern.”

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The fact that it was a road game did not factor into the decision, Sullivan said. He also wasn’t swayed by the fact that this was one of the first — if not the first — college football games cancelled in the country.

“Clearly, we want to be aligned with our industry,” Sullivan said, “but at the end of the day, every campus, every program is unique, and I wasn’t worried about being first or last. I just wanted to make sure we were making the best decision possible medically. When you reach the conclusion and more time is not going to change the answer, just in fairness to everybody, that’s the appropriate way to handle it.”

The Sept. 3 game would have started a home-and-home series. Dayton is scheduled to host SEMO next season. The schools will work to reschedule the game at SEMO in a future season.

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SEMO is a scholarship program in the Ohio Valley Conference, and Chamberlin said it will have players on campus at the end of July.

“Scholarship programs do that,” Chamberlin said. “They have the finances to do those things. They’ll have them on campus two weeks before they were even supposed to start camp, and then they’ll be able to start their camp on time.”

Dayton finished 8-3 overall last season and 6-2 in the Pioneer Football League. The season opener now, if it stays on the schedule, would be Sept. 12 at Georgetown in Washington, D.C. It’s one of 10 games remaining on the schedule.

Chamberlin doesn’t know if the COVID-19 crisis will affect any other games on the schedule.

“It is ever changing,” he said. “We’re going to prepare and continue to get ready for the next game, but it all depends. There’s a lot of factors with even our opponents. What are they doing? It’s really a day-to-day situation.”

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