As students return to Bloomington in increasingly large capacities, the threat of COVID-19 looms over the IU football program. The team has continued to adapt to the pandemic but still faces uncertainty after the Big Ten conference announced last week that fall sports would transition to a conference-only schedule if the season is played.
IU head coach Tom Allen said Tuesday the team is focused on controllable factors, such as social distancing guidelines and training adjustments. Members of the team are practicing together in small groups that are increasing in size every two weeks as fall camp approaches.
“I think we probably thought when this process was early in its stages that by this time we would have a lot more answers, but we don’t,” Allen said. “But I’m optimistic about us starting our season.”
IU football players and coaches in Bloomington have undergone testing for the virus, but Allen would not disclose if any of the four reported positive cases within the athletic department came from the football program.
Many college football schedules have been altered as a result of the uptick in positive tests. IU originally had three nonconference opponents scheduled for the 2020 season but is now slated to play nine games within the Big Ten.
“Those opportunities to be able to get ready for conference play have been very, very important for us, so we won’t have those now,” Allen said. “I support the decision the Big Ten made with that. I understand the discussions and leadership made that call.”
Allen said the Big Ten is discussing the possible addition of a 10th game to the current schedule, which may allow for an equal number of home and away games for each team in the conference. How the decision would be made is unclear.
As he tries to stay focused on the upcoming season, Allen also delivered some news from within the program.
Redshirt junior tight end Peyton Hendershot, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge in June, completed his team-sanctioned discipline and was cleared to fully return to practice. Hendershot allegedly assaulted a 22-year-old woman in February. He was suspended indefinitely and then rejoined the team in what Allen called a modified way in April.
Hendershot earned third team All-Big Ten honors last season after starting 13 games for the Hoosiers and totaled 52 receptions, 622 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The confirmed addition of Hendershot will provide sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with another veteran downfield weapon, along with senior wide receiver Whop Philyor.
The team is continuing to work toward full-team practices while relying on guidance from medical professionals within the program to ensure the season returns as close to normal as possible.
“We’re continuing to take that information with player safety and well-being at the top of the priority list,” Allen said. “It’s not going to change no matter what, no matter how bad we want to play. The players want to play, we all want to play, but we’re not going to do it at their risk."