Photo Credit: Jake Roth
Virginia Tech isn't scheduled to face Liberty till November 7th, but there are already red flags about the viability of that game this season after it was revealed yesterday that Liberty, while having COVID symptom monitoring, has not been testing athletes within the past 2 weeks.
Liberty football coach Hugh Freeze said the program hasn't had a positive test in three weeks.— Damien Sordelett (@DamienSordelett) August 14, 2020
The screenings in the past two weeks haven't necessitated any tests because players are not showing symptoms.
Liberty's statement today seemed to confirm the accuracy of that.
Current #Hokies non-conference opponent Liberty on their COVID protocols. Will have a story with my thoughts on what VT should do and hint, they've done this before with a non-conf. opponent who failed to live up to the expectations placed on them & should threaten to do it again https://t.co/L1s9WSYE5c— The Tech Lunch Pail (@techlunchpaild) August 15, 2020
Now there has been plenty of debate about scheduling Liberty in the past largely because of the presence of Jerry Falwell Jr, who is currently on an indefinite leave of absence, but we aren't going to get into that debate today.
Rather, we're going to focus on the major red flag that Liberty just sent up yesterday about the viability of this game this fall with their lack of testing.
One of the things that the ACC has metnioend is that any non-conference opponent has to meet the minimum standards that the conference has including COVID testing that is happpening at least once a week if not more often. The fact that Liberty isn't doing that is unacceptable and is worthy of the consideration of cancellation at this point already.
So how should Virginia Tech proceed at this point in time?
There should be an ultimatum set that Liberty has to start weekly COVID testing within the next month at latest (and maybe sooner). This is a public health issue for Virginia Tech athletes and the New River Valley as a whole that Liberty must solve or face long-term consequences.
If they fail to do so, then the ultimatum should be that the 2020 game will immediately be cancelled. Additionally, Tech's two future trips to Lynchburg should be immediately removed from the schedule. This would be similar to what we saw play out when ECU failed to rescheduled their game with VT, rescheduling instead with N.C. State and leaving Tech to scramble to add Marshall to their schedule with VT cancelling future trips to Greenville as a result of ECU's actions.
Now some of you may wonder why Virginia Tech shouldn't just cancel it now, but Tech doesn't necessarily need to rush especially when we haven't even reached the start of the season and this game is in November.
First, Liberty's failure to test athletes unnecessarily puts athletes at risk of potentially picking up something that could come from an asymptomatic person and cause long-term damage to themselves. This isn't just a health risk for athletes, but also for residents of the Lynchburg community which also has plenty of Hokie fans who deserve to be protected by the school they support.
All of this speculation may also be for naught if the season doesn't even happen and Liberty should also be given an opportunity to rectify this situation. On top of that, the ACC could also rescind their plan to play a non-conference game especially with multiple ACC teams losing their out-of-conference opponents in recent weeks.
Virginia Tech also has three non-conference games to reschedule over the coming years with no open slots currently till 2030. If Liberty doesn't want to do their job this year, then there's no reason why they couldn't cut off their trips to Lynchburg in 2022 and 2030 and use those open spots to rescheduled their trip to Middle Tennessee State and home game against North Alabama. Additionally, Tech could cancel one of their home Liberty games between 2027-2029 to get Penn State back on the schedule.
See those VT games in Lynchburg are of great value to Liberty given the fact that they can significantly raise prices for that game and likely still have a record crowd for it. That game, especially in 2022 seemingly out of this serious athletics financial crisis, is a revenue dream for Liberty and absolutelty the right bargaining chip that Tech should put on the table even if it may mean paying a small out clause to break those contracts.
Now if Liberty failed to do so and all this played out, it wouldn't be surprising to see Liberty do what ECU did in backing out of their part of the schedule, but I don't think anyone would miss a game against a lower-tier FBS team especially if meant clearing a future date for the Penn State home game to be rescheduled.
Virginia Tech has leverage here that they can use to create a safer environment for athletes at Liberty this season and help keep fellow ACC foes N.C. State (who faces LU after they face VT) and Syracuse (who doesn't face VT) safer.
Rather than blow it on cancelling immediately, Tech should throw down an ultimatum with the threat of cancelling the valuable VT at Liberty games if LU fails to do so. And if they do in a month, there will likely be plenty of programs with the proper protocols ready to fill that schedule gap on November 7th.