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As BYU and Navy prepare to battle, their college football neighbors are stuck on the sidelines

As BYU prepares to travel to Navy for the season opener Sept. 7, giant stadiums in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 will remain empty monuments of a popular game that drives American culture

Officers march onto the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium prior to an NCAA college football game between Navy and South Florida, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Annapolis.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

PROVO — It is the East hosting the only college football team playing in the West.

It’s BYU vs. Navy on Labor Day.

These storied programs, alma maters of Heisman Trophy winners Roger Staubach and Ty Detmer, meet Monday while other parts of the country endure a big-time college football vacuum with empty mammoth stadiums at Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State, among others.

Shad Hansen and his son Jake, daughter Jessi, wife Lori and son Lane.
Photo courtesy of Hansen family

In Pac-12 country and the mighty Midwest states where Big Ten passion reigns huge, the silence of no pads clashing will be deafening.

That’s how Shad Hansen sees it and it is kind of maddening as it hits close to his home northwest of Tampa.

The former BYU linebacker, who still holds the Cougars’ record for career tackles, is torn; he’s thrilled to see his alma mater play Navy and have a season, but his heart is with his youngest son Lane, a senior at Tarpon, Florida’s East Lake High, who will be playing Fridays and his oldest son Jake, an honor-bound Big Ten linebacker at Illinois, who made all the preseason watchlists, but right now has had his senior fall season canceled.

It tugs at Hansen. It has brought a lot of conflict to parents, players, coaches and athletic directors in the Big Ten. They were not given any choice, were denied input, and told in early August of the decision to cancel their seasons.

Jake Hansen, left, son former BYU great Shad Hansen, tackles Wisconsin running back Taiwan Deal Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Madison, Wis.
AP Photo/Andy Manis

“I think it’s great that BYU is getting a season for the players’ sake, just because of how much they have put work into it,” said Hansen.

“You know, I have a son that’s playing high school football and I know how much he works and he’s gonna have his season here, but then my oldest son has lost his senior year right now. It’s not that I don’t think about BYU and their season, but this is where my thoughts go right now.

“He hopefully will get it back, but right now they’re sitting out because the Big Ten shut it down. So I sit back and think about that element, and it makes me happy for BYU. Tom Holmoe has been so creative getting out there right away to find teams that would play. They’re probably thrilled to death they were able to salvage the season when earlier it looked like they had just three games.”

Hansen said his son has a tremendous coach in Lovie Smith, a true leader, and “first class” person. “He’s probably one of the most solid and professional people I’ve ever been around. He supports the school and Josh Whitman, the athletic director at Illinois. They have done everything they could to get players ready.

“Illinois was testing players every single day. That’s what the frustrating thing is, some people say it’s not safe. But then when they were playing football they were safer and more protected than other students, and safer than when they were at home or on other parts of the campus.”

There are 16 Big Ten football players who have opted out of the 2020 season as of Sunday, looking to put their names in the NFL draft according to ESPN.

Hansen agrees with other Big Ten player families, that there was a major lack of communication from the conference over a plan that everyone had to fall in line with. Local governments were all over the board on what they would allow or not allow from state to state.

“I think because they didn’t communicate the plan, it added to some of the panic and confusion. People canceled the season because there was a lack of transparency between each one of the organizations.”

Hansen said a spring season was promised and the NCAA is allowing players to keep this year of eligibility. “But what they don’t tell you,” Hansen said, “is who is going to pay for that extra year — give financial aid? And remember, everyone is losing tons of money over COVID-19 by not playing.”

So, BYU, representing college football West of the state of Texas will play, while Utah just up Interstate 15 about 45 miles will not. And Navy will play, but the University of Maryland just 29 miles down Highway 50 can’t. The two lucky teams will battle one another Monday in what will be a gala TV event with ESPN’s first-team talent doing the broadcast.

How strange is this scene?

Welcome to 2020.