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Uncertain future leaves Mountain West teams in a predicament as star players look elsewhere for football opportunities

Justin Michael Avatar
August 21, 2020

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It’s open season in the Mountain West. 

Since the league announced its decision to postpone all fall competition, Warren Jackson (WR), unsurprisingly, has announced he will be taking his talents to the next level this spring. 

Unfortunately for the green and gold, though, No. 9 is not the only star that has likely played his final game in Canvas Stadium, as both Trey McBride (TE) and Manny Jones (DL) have each decided to enter the transfer portal as well. 

In 2019, Jackson (8) and McBride (4) accounted for roughly 57 percent of CSU’s receiving touchdowns. They also ranked first and third respectively in total receptions and receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, Jones led the defense in tackles for loss (8), and along with Jan Phillip-Bombek, tied for the team lead in sacks (5).

Losing any player stings. But losing three of the best players on the team in a single week? That’s a brutal blow — even for a fanbase that is used to getting their hearts ripped out of their chest on a yearly basis.

Just about a month ago, Phil Steele raved about the depth and experience that Steve Addazio’s Rams possessed in his 2020 season preview. Now, as September quickly approaches, that roster obviously looks significantly different. What’s even worse, though, is there’s no knowing if or when the bleeding is going to stop. 

Not only are we still awaiting the results of Joyce McConnell’s investigation into the football program — something that is increasingly frustrating to the parents of the student-athletes — but we also don’t really know what the plan is moving forward. 

When the Mountain West officially postponed fall competition on Aug. 10, the press release stated the following: 

“The Mountain West will begin to explore the feasibility of rescheduling fall sports competition, including the possibility of those sports competing in the spring, and develop options for consideration. Athletically-related activities and training opportunities for enrolled student-athletes will also be evaluated consistent with NCAA legislation and guidance, as well as state, local and campus parameters.”

Now, obviously, it will be months until we actually know whether or not the games will be played in the spring. Much of that will seemingly be impacted by what the COVID-19 numbers look like around the country at that time. 

But just from a strategic standpoint, cancelling the fall season without announcing even a rough draft for what the spring season could potentially look like, is clearly already causing many of the league’s best players to reconsider their options. 

CSU has definitely lost the most production to transfer so far. However, the struggle to retain top talent is not unique. 

Fresno State recently lost the 2020 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Justin Rice, to Arkansas State. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker is coming off of a monster season in which he recorded 112 total tackles, forced six turnovers and added three sacks for good measure. Sadly for the folks in the valley, Rice will now finish his career in the Sun Belt Conference, which as of Aug. 20, still plans on playing football this fall. 

At this point, it’s unclear whether the NCAA is going to grant immediate eligibility to players that leave leagues that postpone their fall seasons. Although people like Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) have been extremely vocal about wanting this to happen. (Shocker, I know.)  

Even if those players have to sit out a year like usual, though, there’s still some comfort in knowing what the future timetable is supposed to look like. That’s the thing about the Mountain West — nobody knows what the hell is going on or when the league will even try to get back to action. Let alone the other crucial details surrounding eligibility, scholarships, etc. 

Given the state of the country, it would have been unfair to expect the Mountain West to have all the answers back on Aug. 10. Even now, most people understand that the situation is fluid and will be for some time. But having said that, the league better find some answers quickly. The clock is constantly ticking and the MW is only going to get more and more vulnerable as the feeling of uncertainty grows. 

I don’t envy these decision makers. No matter what the conference decides to do in the coming months, there will be people that rip them for it. That’s why leadership is so important during chaotic times though. It takes vision. It also takes the ability to inspire, even in spite of all the chaos. 

The Mountain West needs Mel Gibson in Braveheart, Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, or even Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Right now it feels like Michael Scott in the Office scene where Dwight makes everyone think the building is on fire. “Everybody stay calm. Stay f***** calm!” 


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