Bronco prefers conference-only schedule, minimum of 8 games, no round robin

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall took questions from media members Monday.

Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that while he thinks it’s possible to have a season, it’s incredibly challenging and he believes a definite decision needs to be made by the end of the month.

Mendenhall addressed myriad of topics during a videoconference Monday to update media and fans after most of his football team returned for voluntary workouts last Sunday. Only two players have chosen not to return at this time, but Mendenhall did not identify them and didn’t rule them out of rejoining the team at some point.

Mendenhall’s opinion syncs with that of ACC commissioner John Swofford and others as far as the cutoff for a decision on whether football will be played this fall.

“I think longer than the end of July would be really challenging in terms of preparing, especially if we’re talking about beginning on time,” Mendenhall said. “Once it gets past July, I think that would be a real challenge. That’s the tentative time frame I have in my mind, knowing I’m not the one that decides.

“But if I’m asked to push it farther, then that increases the uncertainty, and I’m not sure anything changes significantly at that point.”

Swofford, who announced recently that this will be his final year as ACC commissioner, said that the league will make a decision in late July as to whether conference teams will play a league-only schedule as the Big 10 and Pac-12 have planned. Many predicted the ACC would follow suit, but Swofford realized there are complications for ACC teams in that the league has a deal with partner Notre Dame, which could lose several games on its schedule, in addition to longtime rivalries between four ACC schools and four SEC schools that would be difficult to decline.

“With the uncertainty past July, in getting into a mindset you need to be able to play a game, I think that would be more than what is reasonable to ask,” Mendenhall said.

While the ACC hasn’t decided on a “conference-only” game schedule, Mendenhall would like to see it happen. Should that occur, Virginia would play its six games against Coastal Division opponents: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami, in addition to two crossover games vs. Atlantic Division teams: Louisville and Clemson.

“Yes, I am in favor of [conference games only] because in situations like this you control the controllables,” Mendenhall said. “By playing teams only in our region, only in our conference, we have a better chance to have standardized protocols in terms of testing.”

The UVA coach said there could be a better chance (speaking of college football in general) to lessen cross-country travel and to increase the percentages on mitigating any concerns about the lack of consistency in testing and prevention, because teams could stick to within their conferences where there is a higher chance of continuity in handling the virus.

“Anything that reduces travel, reduces air travel or increases proximity play and keeps our players safer, we have a better chance to control that within conference rather than out of conference,” Mendenhall said.

The ACC established a panel of medical experts at each of its 14 schools, in addition to Notre Dame, to work on plans to best handle the risks of the virus. That panel meets regularly via videoconferencing to discuss findings and share information. Dr. John MacKnight, UVA’s team physician from UVA Sports Medicine, is the Cavaliers’ representative.

Asked whether he would prefer strictly divisional play and crossovers as opposed to simply playing teams in the region, Mendenhall said he was more in favor of the former.

“I would prefer divisional play and crossovers as close as possible in terms of scheduling within our league,” Mendenhall said. “If for some reason we couldn’t get that architected correctly, yes, I would prefer regional games. If for some reason we couldn’t get that designed appropriately within conference, the next best option is then to look at who’s closest and then consider those options as possible nonconference. But I prefer conference-first.”

Mendenhall said he thinks teams should play no less than eight games and that anything less would be difficult to ask the players to consider, particularly ones hoping to move on to the NFL after this season, or those considering redshirting.

“That’s a minimum cutoff that I have internally just based on my own threshold, nobody else’s,” Mendenhall said. “Anything more than [eight] would be worth it. Anything less would be hard to justify, knowing that I understand the revenue part and I understand the athletic department’s need for resources. I understand the effect on other sports, so I want to help that at the highest level as well.”

One suggestion that Mendenhall didn’t particularly care for was the formation of three regionalized pods comprised of five ACC teams each in addition to Notre Dame. Teams would play every team in their pod twice, a round-robin kind of thing, creating an eight-game schedule.

Such a creation would solve Notre Dame’s problems in terms of playing eight games. However, it still doesn’t address the traditional rivalry games at season’s end between Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida, Clemson-South Carolina and Louisville-Kentucky, games that some of those schools have been adamant about playing.

“I prefer not to play each team twice,” Mendenhall said. “But this isn’t really a time where we get a lot of normal choices. If this proposal of regional pods keeps the team the safest and gives us the best chance to play football, then I would be for that.

“This is a time for innovation and unique solutions to do the very best we can under the circumstances and I think that proposal has merit. I’d much prefer to play each team once, not twice. Again, that expands the regional play and I think that probably puts us at more risk than local play.”

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