By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor, Video by Tim Longoria | Broadcast Reporter
Frustration and disappointment abounded Friday after the Baylor football program postponed its season opener against Houston less than 24 hours before kickoff.
In accordance with Big 12 guidelines, Baylor decided to call off the game for the safety of the players, coaches and staff on both teams. Athletic director Mack Rhoades told local media on Monday that the game could have technically still taken place despite the Bears not meeting the required number of players in a particular position group per Big 12 protocol, but the staff decide not to risk it and stick to the guidelines.
“We can still choose to play if we think it’s OK to play it, if we think that we’re fine in terms of health and safety for our student-athletes. Obviously, we didn’t think that was the case,” Rhoades said.
According to Big 12 protocol, teams must have at least 53 players, including seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback. Baylor had several players benched for either testing positive (10-day quarantine) or for being deemed a close contact (14-day quarantine.)
The athletic department released its weekly update of COVID-19 cases Monday, citing three new cases since Sept. 14 and a total of four active cases. The cases were split terms of which were symptomatic and asymptomatic. A total of 18 cases, including primary contacts, are currently being monitored. These numbers refer to all Baylor sports programs, not specifically the football team.
Neither Rhoades nor head football coach Dave Aranda would give specifics in terms of case numbers, but Aranda said that five players in the affected position group were looking to be ready for the upcoming matchup with Kansas. The team will also see six players returning from injury this week.
Despite having yet another opportunity to play taken away from his team, Aranda said he is optimistic about Baylor’s conference opener Saturday.
“Yeah, we don’t blink,” Aranda said. “I think leadership of the team, character of the team, I think all of that is right there for anyone to feel that. We had a practice yesterday, and there was great energy, the meetings were great. I’m continually impressed with this team. I want to be with them on Saturday on the sidelines to see their resiliency.”
Both Rhoades and Aranda said the possibility of postponement came up on Thursday. Rhoades immediately contacted Houston AD Chris Pezmen and Aranda reached out to Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen. On Friday the decision was made to postpone.
Rhoades said that they were trying to be as transparent with their opponents as possible, in the same way that Louisiana Tech was with Baylor. The possibility of rescheduling either with either school is still out there, however, Rhoades said the likelihood was low.
“We were intentional, obviously about using the word ‘postpone’ with both contests, with both LA Tech and Houston, in the event that they may be some opportunity down the line to reschedule” Rhoades said. “The likelihood I don’t think is great but just given the uncertainty of everything that is going on, and that continued uncertainty, we didn’t want to close the door on either one of those contests.”
For now, the Bears will move on to focusing on Kansas and second-year head coach Les Miles. Aranda and company should be very familiar with the “Mad Hatter” as Baylor’s head coach worked under Miles during his time at LSU.
“I think Les is one of my favorite all-time just people,” Aranda said. “The immediate take away from him is just how generous he is, how real he is, just authentic person. What you see is what you get.”
The Bears are set to play the Jayhawks at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.