Inside Zoom and the one-hour meeting that brought back Mountain West football

It was a decision made in just over an hour via a Zoom call with the leaders of 12 colleges in the Mountain West Conference.

From his desk in Reno, dressed in a suit, UNR’s Marc Johnson went in to the 6 p.m. Thursday night meeting with an open mind to consider playing football amid a pandemic.

By 7:15 p.m., he was convinced to try an eight-game season starting on Oct. 24.

He admitted he has had it easier than some of his counterparts in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Idaho, who have spent the last few months feeling incredible pressure from lawmakers and donors to resume the football season.

Nevada head coach Jay Norvell, right, and the Wolf Pack got a second shot at a football season Thursday night.

And even though he knows players and coaches want to play, that wasn’t what he was thinking about when he went in to the meeting, called only because it seemed “silly not to have the conversation amid other big football programs deciding to play.”

Johnson said he went into the meeting looking to be convinced it was safe.

It is one of the last calls he will make

In just over a week, Johnson won’t have any better seats to the games than the average fan, despite being the one to give the official green light to Nevada football this season.  

University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson gives his 7th State of the University address Sept. 26, 2017

Weeks before even the first game, Johnson will be on a long sabbatical before coming back to UNR to teach. Former Gov. Brian Sandoval will get the presidential suite with seats overlooking the 50-yard line.

But for Johnson, it’ wasn’t about seats or the seniors who might miss this season. It was all about what the medical experts, all but one from Nevada, had to say. Two were from UNR and two from UNLV, proving that Nevada had a bigger role in the outcome of football medically than any of the other seven states in the conference.

The medical experts dominated most of the meeting, talking and answering questions for about 50 minutes as they reassured 12 colleges that had already decided to put off all sports until the spring to change course.

With testing, it can be done, they said.                                        

And Johnson was reassured that heart damage, an outcome of COVID-19 for some, wasn’t a risk for players amid widespread testing regularly during the season and before travel for every game.

Read More:Mountain West votes to play a fall season

It’s almost a done deal

There was never an official vote, Johnson said about the meeting.

“We agreed we had a consensus to move forward subject to the constraints of our individual states,” he said.

The presidents nodded in agreement to try and make it work.

It’s almost a done deal.

He said UNR is working to make sure players and coaches on the sidelines are allowed under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders to keep gatherings to 50 people or fewer.

“It’s outside, and the Raiders did it, so we are checking,” Johnson said.

He said fans in the stands are unlikely, but it hasn’t been ruled out yet.

“If we have to do six feet of socially distancing, it may cost more to let fans in than we can do in ticket sales.”

And while the Mountain West said it would pay the costs to test athletes and staff, it’s money UNR will still be on the hook for, according to Johnson.

“There are working on a plan with a particular firm to have tests and if we get some volume we might get discounts,” Johnson said.

But either way, Johnson said UNR will be paying for part of it.  

“The Mountain West had talked about using their reserves to pay for it but coming back later (they said they would be) diminishing the amount of payments that come through the conference to the universities.”

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He said it’s going to be expensive in an era of budget cuts and a loss in ticket sales with an expectation from the schools to also help build up the reserves of the Mountain West again after this season. 

But things are moving forward, and a season is likely.

And if and when fans are allowed, Johnson said he’ll be lining up with everyone else to get a good seat.  

Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal