Excited about heading into his second set of preseason practices with his Bucknell football program, Dave Cecchini, his staff and the Bison players find themselves in a state of uncertainty as they play the waiting game.
This waiting game is of indefinite length, and is likely nowhere close to being resolved.
What Cecchini and everyone associated with the Lewisburg-based program he’s fronted since last February know is this: The Bison will not hold any of their scheduled 15 spring practices, nor will they suit up for the game that was planned for late next month.
All of the players are in the process of heading to their respective homes since the coronavirus pandemic has prompted Bucknell to initiate online coursework in a concerted attempt to limit contact, and hopefully slow the outbreak’s spread.
Classes are scheduled to resume on Thursday.
The Patriot League added to those many unknowns Monday by suspending all spring athletics practices and competitions. That announcement arrived on the heels of the NCAA’s decision to cancel all of the tournaments remaining on its 2019-20 slate.
Bucknell president Dr. John C. Bravman addressed a number of things Monday when he included the following paragraph in a much-larger address to the Bucknell student body.
“Effective Monday, March 16, the Patriot League has suspended all athletics practices and competitions,” Bravman said. “While we recognize the deep disappointment that will be felt by our student-athletes, coaches and supporters, the League’s Council of Presidents decided that a continuation of spring seasons is untenable.”
So, just when everyone will return to campus — whether football players or not — is one of those questions no one can answer right now.
There is plenty of concern surrounding the unknowns, especially since the Bison are scheduled to open the 2020 season on Sept. 4 at Army against Jeff Monken’s run-heavy Black Knights program.
“The first thing is to understand that it’s a very fluid situation,” said Cecchini, whose initial Bucknell squad finished 3-8 overall, 3-3 in Patriot League play. “We’re doing our best as a coaching staff to cover all the angles and see all the possibilities that lay in the future here — over the next, not just coming weeks, but the next coming months.
“There’s a number of different ways that this could go, but as it currently stands right now our players are headed home, where it’s going to be really hard for them to stay in shape. And that’s the first concern we have with the closing of a lot of gyms and high schools, places our players when they’re going home would typically work out.”
Strength and conditioning coach Mark Kulbis is in the process of designing individual workout plans for Bison players — based on the equipment each student-athlete may have access to at home, even things as simple as a home gym, treadmill, stationary bike or some rudimentary weight equipment.
Cecchini’s greatest concern rests with his soon-to-be-sophomores, who have never endured a series of spring workouts, and have the most to gain from on-field reps.
At the same time, no spring football could provide Bucknell’s incoming 24-man recruiting class opportunities to get on the field sooner since the rising sophomores, in a number of cases, won’t be as far ahead of the freshmen as they might normally be.
What Cecchini is hoping is that the NCAA relaxes the rules it has in place during the summer months, revised standards that might allow for June and July workouts to take the place of the practices that were scuttled. If summer sessions were to be allowed, how much live hitting would be permitted is among the items that would need to be taken under consideration at some point.
Another unknown — if some summer workouts are permitted and players are able to return to campus before preseason camp starts on Aug. 5 — is how would the Bison get housed and fed during that time.
Of course, whether or not the academics-first Patriot League would allow any of its seven football programs to participate — even if the NCAA gives its approval — is also very much up in the air as the coronavirus situation continues to play out.
“If we can get the blessings of both the NCAA and the Patriot League, we might be able to do something in the summer that traditionally Division I football teams have not been able to do,” Cecchini said. “So, we’re really open to all of these options.
“We’re exploring every possibility that we can think of. That’s kind of how we spend our time as a coaching staff now. The best ways to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation and keep our players safe and healthy is always our No. 1 priority.”
Cecchini said some Patriot League programs were able to practice some before the edict came down. Bucknell was hoping to add to what the coaching staff implemented throughout its initial season, particularly since Cecchini’s Bison are returning 10 starters on the offensive side of the football and all 11 on the defensive unit.
Among those returning are all-Patriot League selections such as wide receiver Brandon Sanders and linebacker Simeon Page — a pair of first-team picks — as well as offensive lineman P.J. Barr and defensive back Gavin Pringle.
“We weren’t going to be making any wholesale changes, no giant departures from what we’ve been doing,” Cecchini said. “Just expanding upon what we were doing.”
One potential plus is Bucknell Director of Athletics and Recreation Jermaine Truax is a football guy who played defensive back at Edinboro, and later coached the game and worked in the front offices of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Arena Football League’s San Jose SaberCats.
Truax also serves as Chair for the Patriot League’s football athletic directors and recently completed his second year on the selection committee that chooses the participants in the Football Championship Series’ 24-team tournament bracket.
“Football is important at Bucknell, and we’ve got guys from Jermaine Truax to President Bravman that are big supporters of the program and keep a close eye on the progress that we’ve made so far,” said Cecchini, an All-American wide receiver at Lehigh.
“That’s always good because they’re looking for solutions and ways to get it done. It’s nice to have the backing of the athletic department and the university as a whole.”
Truax and Bravman aren’t the only individuals searching for solutions, however, as Cecchini and his staff of assistant coaches are exploring every avenue they can.
“It’s a shame. It’s obviously disappointing, but everybody’s dealing with the same thing,” Cecchini said. “The fact that we may not get back together until Aug. 5, which is our reporting date for camp, is an awful long time to go without a group, without a team, without running plays, without position meetings or working out together.”