PROVO — Although there is growing evidence, and considerable concern, that the 2020 college football season will be postponed or canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, BYU football coaches could have another dilemma on their hands this summer.

If there is a season, how will they handle the sooner-than-anticipated return of dozens of players who have been serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world? 

Coach Kalani Sitake said in a teleconference last week that there are 47 players with ties to his program — including 18 who were on scholarship when they departed — on missions. At least 37 of those missionaries are serving outside the United States, according to a list provided by the school’s sports information department.

Asked then how he would handle a sudden influx of ball-playing missionaries, Sitake said he would take each one on a case-by-case basis.

“We have asked them for some patience and understanding, (with them hopefully) knowing the situation, understanding the situation,” he said.

Five of those players — defensive lineman Tanner Baker, tight end Ben Tuipulotu and offensive linemen Campbell Barrington, Connor Pay and Tyson Lewis — were due home this spring or summer anyway and will be part of the 85 scholarships allotted per year to FBS teams by the NCAA.

But many others who were serving international assignments have since returned home, and on Tuesday, the church announced that the young people who are currently self-isolating for 14 days will be temporarily released and have two options moving forward.

They can decide by April 30 whether to go back to their original or temporary assignment “as soon as conditions allow” with their original end date. Or, they can return to full-time proselytizing service within 12 to 18 months with a new end date. The options do not apply to those missionaries serving in their home countries.

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The announcement could be a game-changer for BYU’s depth in 2020, but more headaches for coaches. What if a player chooses the latter option, but wants to use the time to get in a year of college football? 

For instance, tight end Dallin Holker, who is back home in Lehi after serving the past year in Vina del Mar, Chile, could seemingly help a group with little experience beyond senior Matt Bushman. Holker caught 19 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown in 2018 before making a surprise decision to serve a mission and departing last April.

Other scholarship athletes from BYU’s 2018 signing class who have returned from missions temporarily include do-everything athlete Talan Alfrey (Uruguay) and linebackers Isaac Matua (Madagascar), Oliver Nasilai (Brazil) and Viliami Tausinga (Tonga).

They will have big decisions to make in the next four weeks.

“Keeping that line of communication open is important to us and seeing how things are going for them,” Sitake said. “Right now, we are still focusing on the present. We are still dealing with the day to day and trying to educate them as much a s possible, and also trying to be up front and honest with them. … It is just another adjustment we will have to make.”

“Keeping that line of communication open is important to us. ... Right now, we are still focusing on the present. We are still dealing with the day to day and trying to educate them as much as possible, and also trying to be up front and honest with them. … It is just another adjustment we will have to make.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

The coach said it is “way too early” to even think about whether the season will be played, let alone which missionaries will be available.

Included among the football players who signed scholarship agreements in 2019 and left on foreign missions immediately upon graduating from high school are defensive lineman Cade Albright (Colombia), quarterback Jacob Conover (Paraguay), defensive lineman Brooks Maile (Tonga), linebacker Michael Daley (Uruguay), tight end Ethan Erickson (Japan), offensive lineman Brock Gunderson (El Salvador) and receiver Chase Roberts (Canada).

Bruce Mitchell, a defensive lineman from South Summit High in Kamas who signed in December 2018, is serving in Seattle. Most missionaries who are serving in the United States have remained in their mission areas but have been asked to stay in their apartments until the quarantine is lifted.

BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos said Monday that he’s not planning on any new additions; he’s already scheduled to have 17 bodies in his offensive line room this fall, not including the aforementioned Barrington, Pay and Lewis.

“It is much too early to tell,” Mateos said. “But I don’t anticipate any late additions, at least with my group.”

Missionaries in BYU’s football program

SCHOLARSHIP ATHLETES (18)

Tysen Lewis (Peru)

Connor Pay (Washington, D.C.)

Tanner Baker (Jamaica)  

Campbell Barrington (Mexico) 

Ben Tuipulotu (Chile)

Cade Albright (Colombia)  

Jacob Conover (Paraguay) 

Michael Daley (Uruguay) 

Ethan Erickson (Japan) 

Brock Gunderson (El Salvador)

Brooks Maile (Tonga) 

Dallin Holker (Chile)

Talan Alfrey (Uruguay)

Isaac Matua (Madagascar)

Oliver Nasilai (Brazil)

Viliami Tausinga (Tonga)

Bruce Mitchell (Seattle, Washington)

Chase Roberts (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

WALK-ONS and PREFERRED WALK-ONS (24)

Cade Albright (Colombia)

Talan Alfrey (Uruguay)

Trey Andersen (Fresno, California)

Chayce Bolli (Ghana)

Conner Ebeling (Colombia)

Hunter Greer (Chile)

Ryan Gunn (Peru)

Brock Heideman (Peru)

Cade Hoke (Brazil)

Jake Jensen (Argentina)

Carter Krupp (South Africa)

Nick Nethercott (Lubbock, Texas)

Parker Nicoll (Guatemala)

Alex Palmer (Santa Rosa, California)

Jacob Palu (Japan)

Jacob Pedersen (Peru)

Isaiah Ramos (Fiji) 

Dalton Riggs (Tonga)

Ethan Slade (Chile)

Justen Smith (Argentina)

Bailey Sulzer (Salem, Oregon)

Michael Thorson (Eugene, Oregon)

Tanner Wall (Brazil)

Benjamin Ward (Argentina)

Jaylon Vickers (New York City)

Source: BYU football sports information department