Re-focusing: Texans announce shift to spring football

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Tarleton State University head football coach Todd Whitten, pictured on the sideline during a game last season.

Tarleton State University’s decision to move its 2020 football season to the spring may not be what anyone truly wanted, but at least the players and coaches can now prepare with that new target in focus.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic health concerns and uncertainty that had led to many other college football programs to make that declaration, the Texans’ football season has been postponed until the 2021 spring semester.

Monday’s news release from the university stated:

“On Wednesday, August 5, the NCAA Board of Governors issued a set of requirements for competing in the fall. One of the requirements stated that 50-percent of playoff eligible teams must compete for there to be NCAA championships. As of 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, following the postponement of the Big Sky Conference and Pioneer Football League, only 39.5 percent of FCS schools remained willing to compete in the fall according to HeroSports.com.

“The Texans were scheduled to play 11 games in their inaugural Division I season, including seven games against other FCS programs. Season ticket holders will be contacted directly in the coming weeks from members of the Tarleton Athletics staff with regard to the season ticket protection policy.”

Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lonn Reisman stated in the news release that ”The health and well-being of our student-athletes, as well as our fans, staff and all the students of Tarleton State University, has always been our top priority. This is not an easy decision to make. There are a lot of people who want to see Tarleton take the field at the NCAA Division I level — I am one of them — but we have to prioritize the safety of everyone on our campus above all else. We've worked hard to keep our student-athletes safe as they returned to campus. As difficult a decision as this is, we feel like we need to wait to participate until there is a safe return protocol at the end of this pandemic."

Head football coach Todd Whitten said during an interview with the E-T on Monday that it is disappointing — even though at this point it was not a big surprise to the players.

“Any time the season gets canceled, we’re all going to be disappointed,” Whitten said. “But I think the main thing is the safety and well-being of the players. People started postponing their season from the fall to spring. It’s kind of been in the works. It’s not a surprise. We work year-round to get ready for a big football season, and then for it to go away is disappointing.”

Conferences such as the Big Sky, Missouri Valley and Lone Star had announced last week that they would be delaying football until the spring.

“So really, most all of our peers have made this move and so I think most of our kids probably expected it,” Whitten said. “I think they were relieved to know exactly what direction we were going. So now we can focus on the spring season.”

The 2020 football schedule is to be the first for the Texans since their move up from NCAA Division II to Division I, as a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) independent. The Texans joined the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) on July 1. The WAC does not currently sponsor football, which means Tarleton will be competing as an independent in that sport this season.

"I want to thank everyone who has shown support for our student-athletes, coaches and staff during these trying months without athletics," Reisman stated. "I've waited 20 years for Tarleton to be Division I, now we'll just tack on a couple more months. It's been difficult, there's no doubt about that, but I'm confident that we will get through this and 2021 will be the best season in the history of Tarleton State University."

The Texans continued their era of excellence under Whitten in 2019, winning the Lone Star Conference for the second year in a row (8-0), and finishing with a brilliant 11-1 record. That squad featured four Associated Press All-America performers, although three of them were seniors. The 2019 Texans cranked out incredible averages of 45 points and 531.7 yards per game.

SCHEDULING

As for how the spring football schedule may eventually pan out, Whitten said that is still up in the air.

“It’s hard to say until we can have conversations with all of those universities,” Whitten said. “I’m sure that our administration will start those discussions right away and we’ll start planning for the spring season — probably as soon as tomorrow (Tuesday).

“There’s a chance you’re going to see most all of college football move to the spring. It’s just really hard to know right now. It’s a difficult time for everybody. We’ve just got to continue to put the players first, and their well-being, and we’ll get through this.”

The original football schedule was to have a matchup against Sam Houston State University of the Southland Conference as the Texans’ season opener, as well as two games against Missouri Valley foes, four against Lone Star Conference opponents, and a pairing with Bethune-Cookman from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

“There’s only, I think, three (schools) left on our schedule that haven’t declared (a move to the spring). “Whitten said, adding, “We’re confident we’re going to put together a really good, solid schedule in the spring. It’ll be a lot of work. I know the kids will be excited. It will be a lot of fun when we get ready to get out there and play. I know everybody’s going to be ready for college football.”

SPRING DREAMS

Now that the football switch is official, the players and coaches have that new target and Whitten emphasized that the Texans will make the best of it. In the meantime, that will include focusing on weight training, conditioning — and of course academics.

“We missed out on all our spring conditioning and spring training,” Whitten said. “We’ve still got a lot of things to get caught up with, so we’re going to utilize the time well. I think we’re just going to kind of flip the semesters, we’ve got to treat this fall like spring, and if the NCAA allows maybe have some spring football.”

Whitten said that he and his coaching staff met with the players about the decision, and discussed the reality of it all.

“The pandemic is what it is. It’s here,” Whitten said. “We just have to deal with it. I told them there will be lots of things through their lifetime that will be problematic. One of the things that kind of will help define whether or not you’re successful is how well you handle these situations.

”As a football program, we’re just going to work hard and (observe) all the protocols of social distancing and wearing a mask and keeping our hands clean and (we’ve) just got to be real smart about the way that we conduct ourselves. Hopefully, as soon as we can we’ll get a chance to play ball again and we’ll be ready.”

When asked if there may be a silver lining in the situation for the Texans, Whitten said, “I think you always have to look for that. I think that’s important. You take any situation and you try to find the positives and build and grow and learn. So (it’s) a big opportunity to do that, to learn right now.

“We’re in transition right now so we’re going to have a little extra time to work on academics, to work in the weight room, to get our young players more up to speed through off-season. So just a little extra time to get everybody ready and so we can go out and be successful in our spring season.”

The 12,000 seats at Tarleton State University's beautifully remodeled Memorial Stadium will have to remain empty until at least the spring of 2021.