CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley had a visceral reaction to the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s decision to cancel its fall football season amid COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s basically a punch in the gut,” Farley said. “It’s impactful. Everybody is affected by it differently based on the year they are, but it’s life-changing for some guys (on the team).
“The value of playing is extremely high, but with this decision there’s also reasons to not play, but just for that one moment in time that’s an impactful thing.”
Farley described how his team wearing its masks, being vigilant when it was off campus and following all other protocols only added to the sting of losing its fall season.
When it comes to the biggest impacts of the MVFC’s cancellation for UNI, it spelled the end of three All-America seniors’ careers.
Offensive lineman Spencer Brown’s UNI career effectively ended. He plans to opt out of a potential spring season while not entering the transfer portal.
Defensive end Elerson G. Smith entered the transfer portal the same day the cancellation was announced and is hoping to catch on with one of the handful of FBS teams planning to play this fall. Defensive back Xavior Williams has since removed his name from the transfer portal.
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However, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced cancellations this week, fans began to wonder if those players would consider returning to UNI to play in the spring.
“The best answer to that is they were backed up against a wall, per se, because they’re all going to graduate in December, the (NFL) draft is in April and they wouldn’t play in the spring if there was a place to play right now because of the timing of the draft,” Farley said.
Another development of the MVFC’s cancellation was its teams still are allowed to pursue nonconference games this fall if they choose. UNI revealed in a statement shortly after the MVFC’s that it would not pursue fall out-of-conference games.
“That truly is a safety issue and I understand that 100-percent,” Farley said. “If you take the mindset that, ‘hey, we’re going to play three games and it might be one or it might be three,’ if that’s all you’re going to play — go through camp and play those games — and then try to come back and play in the spring and then come back and play the following fall. We play a very intense sport that requires a lot of physical stamina.”
Farley added he anticipates the NCAA allowing a spring-like practice schedule to take place in the fall now. At the same time the Panthers head coach acknowledged that strong leadership will be needed to get the sport back on track.
“The problem is we’re always delaying what’s going on and young men are trying to make lifetime decisions and it’s affecting a lot of people with the delay and no direction,” Farley said. “This is when we need leadership the most.”