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Gee discusses possibility of a West Virginia University football season

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of stories detailing West Virginia University President Gordon Gee’s thoughts on how the university is helping guide its students – and the entire Mountain State – through the COVID-19 pandemic. Gee also focuses on WVU Medicine, the future of higher education and college sports as we approach a “new normal.”

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PARKERSBURG — West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said the Mountaineers must take the field again to help the Mountain State.

“The spirit of the Mountaineers is a very important component of the spirit of this state,” he said. “You just feel it, you sense it, people are anxiaous.”

Gee spoke online last week with the Ogden News editorial board about how football and other college sports might be affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. The college canceled on-campus classes for the remainder of the semester and officials are determining the best way to reach a “new normal” as the state looks to begin reopening.

West Virginia is still under a stay-at-home order and limits on how many people can gather in a group. Federal, state and local officials have asked people to wear masks when in public and to observe social distancing whenever possible.

All of those factors, Gee said, make football all but impossible.

“Do I think there is going to be college football in the fall? I certainly hope so,” he said. But, “we cannot play football without students. You don’t keep the university shut down and then play football.”

Gee said much will depend on how the various executive orders are changed or eased in the coming weeks and months. If the number of people permitted in a gathering increases, the college could look at other options to help keep people safe.

“We may have to give everyone coming into the stadium a mask. We may have to social distance,” he said.

Gee said there are ongoing discussions on changing the start or length of the season and other ways to address the situation, but “we have five power leagues. If we don’t do the same thing, then we’ve got a very serious problem.”

Gee said there are concerns the loss of revenue from football could damage all of the college’s sports program.

“Football is the mother’s milk of athletics. It really sustains our other sports, save for basketball. Any loss of football revenue is going to have a real dramatic impact on our athletic program,” he said. “Right now no one is going to be buying a seat to a football game because they don’t know if they are going to be playing football. There is a lot of uncertainty. The loss could be substantial.”

Gee said he would do almost anything to get the football season off a great start, jokingly saying he would take the field himself.

“I’m ready to play. I’m ready to suit up if they need me,” Gee said. “Put me in, coach.”

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