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Wachenheim optimistic about Virginia keeping VMI on football schedule

Wachenheim optimistic about Virginia keeping VMI on football schedule

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VMI hopes to play a football game at Virginia.

But VMI must first play a waiting game.

The ACC announced Wednesday a new scheduling model, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, that calls for each of its football teams to play 10 conference games plus just one nonleague game. So VMI, which is scheduled to visit UVa on Sept. 12, is waiting to find out if UVa still wants to play that game.

“I’m very optimistic and hopeful that the UVa game will be played,” VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said Thursday in a phone interview.

UVa’s original schedule had four nonleague games, including a Sept. 5 neutral-site game in Atlanta with Southeastern Conference member Georgia, whose league scrapped nonconference games Thursday; the VMI game; a Sept. 19 home game with Connecticut; and an Oct. 24 game at Old Dominion.

The ACC is requiring that each football team’s lone nonleague game be held in the ACC school’s home state.

“For UVa, we can bus up the day of the game,” Wachenheim said.

VMI’s chances of staying on the UVa schedule could be boosted by the Keydets being in a military school “bubble.”

“The discipline that our school has and the way that we can contain not only our athletes but the entire student population I think would make us an opponent that people would highly consider playing because I think we can do a better job not only controlling our athletes’ exposure but our entire student population’s exposure to the coronavirus,” Wachenheim said.

FCS member VMI, which last played the Cavaliers in 2013, is due to reap $375,000 from UVa for the game.

“As a Division I FCS team, the finances provided from games like that help us run our program,” Wachenheim said. “So there’s a lot of interest on the VMI football end and on my end for us to go up there.”

Under the contract, UVa would have to pay VMI only $50,000 if it cancels the game. There is a clause that removes that financial penalty if the game is canceled because of an epidemic or an “act of God,” although it remains to be seen whether that clause would fit this scenario because UVa would still be choosing to play 11 other games.

The NCAA issued guidelines two weeks ago about COVID-19 tests for athletes. The NCAA recommends testing and results should be obtained by schools within 72 hours of a football game kicking off. When asked about those NCAA recommendations, VMI athletic director Dave Diles said in an email last week that VMI had not yet devised its testing plans.

The ACC announced Wednesday that not only must ACC football players be tested within three days of a football game kicking off, but also that any nonleague foe must agree to follow those same ACC testing requirements for that week.

Could VMI afford to test its entire team the week of the UVa game?

“The ACC has its testing protocols and we are looking forward to playing Virginia and meeting those protocols,” Diles said in an email Thursday.

VMI did test its freshman football and basketball players when they reported to campus this month for summer workouts.

The ACC’s new plan calls for no football games to be played before the week beginning on Monday, Sept. 7. So if the VMI game remains Sept. 12, it would become UVa’s opener.

Southern Conference member VMI already has one hole to fill on its schedule. The Keydets were supposed to host Ivy League member Princeton on Sept. 19, but the Ivy League announced on July 8 that it was suspending the fall sports season.

If UVa cancels the VMI game, that would leave VMI with two holes on its 11-game schedule. But Wachenheim is confident that Diles, who handles the football schedule, could fill both holes.

“There’s a lot of teams looking for games, so I’m not concerned,” Wachenheim said.

The Colonial Athletic Association has scrapped the fall football season in favor of the spring, but CAA members James Madison and Elon still plan to play football this fall and thus are crafting schedules to play as independents.

Wachenheim said he does not know if Diles is talking with JMU or Elon. But VMI could be a suitable foe for either school.

“JMU, that’s less than an hour bus ride. We could go up there or they could come down here,” Wachenheim said. “We could easily get to Elon … on a day-of-game travel.”

VMI’s other nonleague game is a Sept. 5 visit to Robert Morris. There are currently no snags with that game. Robert Morris is playing as a football independent this year as it makes a transition from the Northeast Conference to being a football-only Big South member.

The FCS football playoffs are still scheduled for 2020. But the NCAA Board of Governors could decide next week to cancel them or move them to the spring.

If the football playoffs are moved to the spring, leagues such as the SoCon will have to decide if they want to move their season to the spring as well.

“I don’t know whether there’s playoffs or not playoffs would determine whether you decide to play in the fall,” Wachenheim said. “The spring is an idea that’s being floated out there. I do believe there is some merit to that. But there’s a lot more that meets the eye with moving football to the spring that would have to be fully, fully considered.

“As long as we can play safely, the Southern Conference coaches are united in wanting to play in the fall.”

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