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BYU gets waiver, begins workouts, inches closer to possible opener at Alabama

Source says a Cougars vs. Crimson Tide matchup on Sept. 5 is looking more and more likely if the SEC decides later this week to play a full 12-game schedule or even a conference-games-plus-one model

The Brigham Young Cougars warm-up before the start of a NCAA football game between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.
The BYU Cougars warm up before the start of against Utah State at Maverik Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. The Cougars received a waiver from the NCAA that allowed the team to start warming up for the 2020 season on Monday.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

PROVO — In his “state of the program” remarks last week on BYUtv, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said the school would seek a waiver from the NCAA to begin football workouts and team meetings with coaches this week even though the Cougars currently don’t have a game scheduled until Oct. 2 against Utah State.

That waiver to which Holmoe alluded has been granted, and on Monday BYU players transitioned from the voluntary workouts they have been participating in since June 1 to required athletically related activities with coaches, football spokesperson Brett Pyne confirmed. Offensive line coach Eric Mateos shared the good news last Friday with a tweet about football being back.

“Yes, the NCAA provided a waiver for teams to conduct required workouts and start preseason camps based on the dates of originally scheduled games,” Pyne said.

BYU’s first game was scheduled for Sept. 3 against Utah.

Pyne said BYU “anticipates” that fall camp will begin next week with the first practice on Aug. 4. Media interviews with players and coaches will be conducted via Zoom.

Monday morning, defensive backs coaches Preston Hadley and Jernaro Gilford posted a video of them riding their bicycles to the first meeting of the entire team since spring practices were called off on March 12 when the pandemic hit.

“We don’t know if it has been officially confirmed who we are playing (first), but we are going to be ready, and whoever it is, we want all the smoke,” Hadley said.

BYU’s first four games, all scheduled for September, were canceled when the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences decided they would only play conference games in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. A fifth game, against Stanford on Nov. 28, is also off the table for the same reason.

Speculation continues to swirl that BYU’s first opponent will be Alabama, perhaps on Sept. 5 in Tuscaloosa. A source close to the Alabama program told the Deseret News on Friday that if the Southeastern Conference decides it is going to play a full slate of games, or even a conference-games-plus-one model, the BYU-Alabama game is a go.

BYU has also had discussions with TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State of the Big 12 about possible September matchups to replace lost games, the Deseret News has learned.

“I have had a lot of conversations with a number of people,” Holmoe said last week, noting that “it would be nice” to replace Power Five conference teams on the schedule with other Power Five teams, “but it might not be realistic.”

Those possibilities have created a sense of urgency in Provo, which is why BYU officials joined many others in pushing for the waiver to begin what the NCAA calls “countable athletically related activities.”

On June 11, the NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee finalized the proposed preseason model in answer to the pandemic shutting down the majority of most schools’ spring practices with an eye toward players being ready physically when fall camps begin.

From last Friday through Aug. 6 (for teams with games scheduled on Sept. 5) players are required to participate in up to 20 hours of activities per week, but not more than four hours per day. Up to eight hours per week can be used for weight training and conditioning. Up to six hours per week can be used for walk-throughs, which may include the use of a football. The other six hours can be used for film review, team meetings, position meetings and the like.

“Given the impact of COVID-19, we believe this model provides institutions and their student-athletes flexibility to prepare for the upcoming season,” said West Virginia AD Shane Lyons.

Players are not allowed to wear helmets or pads during the walk-throughs. When preseason training camp opens, they have to go through the usual acclimation periods before donning pads and participating in contact and hitting drills.

Bottom line is that although there’s still a lot of doubt regarding whether a college football season will take place this fall, BYU officials and coaches are moving forward in hopes that they can still play at least 10 games.

“It is such a moving picture,” Holmoe said. “Every day is a new day. You just have to stay with it, keep your focus, keep your wits, and at the end of the day when they say we are playing, have a schedule.”

Even if it starts with mighty Alabama.