DALLAS, TEXAS — The Cincinnati Bearcats arrived in Dallas on Sunday in preparation for their College Football Playoff semifinal game vs. Alabama.
Among the central issues surrounding the highly anticipated matchup has been COVID-19 concerns, which have walloped the sports world in recent weeks. The breakout of a new variant — Omicron — remains the newest cause for event-cancellations through what’s qualified as a near two-year journey in fighting dangers to the health/safety of players and coaches.
But that’s not stopping Luke Fickell in remaining focused for Friday.
“We all have things we’ve got to overcome,” Fickell said. “We have a lot of other colds and flus and things we’ve missed throughout the season. So we know we got to be smart about what it is we’re doing. But we’re not going to dwell upon those things because sometimes I think those things hold us up more than anything. They take our energy, they get us into a different frame of mind.”
Cincinnati has yet to report a positive COVID-19 case despite recent breakouts surrounding Texas A&M, Boston College and Virginia — all of which have opted out of their bowl games. An instance in which a team can not field enough players for the CFP is resultable by an essential forfeit, per the CFP committee’s rules. That goes for both before and after the semifinal games in deciding a champion.
“As we prepare for the Playoff, it’s wise and necessary to put into place additional precautions to protect those who will play and coach the games,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “These policies will better protect our students and staffs while providing clarity in the event worst-case scenarios result.
Rules state that the National Championship could be delayed, but no later than the 14th of January. The semifinal games will have no flexibility, meaning that if a program fails to field a complete team on New Year’s Eve, it is subject to disqualification. A scenario in which both teams in a certain semifinal game are unable to take the field will result in the winner of the other earning automatic recognition as the National Champion.
In light of such strict measures, the precautions taking by CFP coaches and players have qualified as no lighter. The need to “act like it’s last year” remains the theme reiterated by Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
“We have encouraged them to use the same practices that we had to use a year ago, whether it’s wearing a mask in meetings, wearing a mask when you’re not in the building, social distancing when we’re in meetings,” Saban said. “So, if there were some new protocols that would help us be safer, we would certainly implement them. But I think we tried to implement all that we know that has worked in the past.”
The Alabama Crimson Tide and Cincinnati will duel it out in four days time, barring the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak. Both programs have yet to report any cases for players (Crimson Tide OC Bill O’Brien and O-Line coach Doug Marrone tested positive but are expected to complete the necessary quarantine measures prior to Friday).