UTEP Football: 3 Questions + Answers = 1 Painful Prediction (November 2020)

Miners Head Football Coach Dana Dimel (L) and Athletic Director Jim Senter share a moment after a 2019 preseason workout at Camp Ruidoso, N.M. Pending forthcoming roster moves, the mood may not always be so light. 

By Mark S. McDonald

Part-way through the strangest college football season of all-time, here are three questions and a prediction:

(Question 1) UTEP is scheduled to visit UT-San Antonio for a Saturday confab in the Alamodome. The Roadrunners recently had three offensive linemen test positive for the China virus … which meant their teammates were exposed … which meant the UTSA game with Rice last week was postponed. How could the Roadrunners be fully quarantined and cleared to play UTEP on Saturday? 

Answers: Not likely. Stay tuned.

(Question 2) The Miners-Roadrunners game will be open to the public, yes?

Answers: Game-day seating will be allowed for a limited number of fans. Face masks and distancing will be required. Doesn’t seem near as much fun as when the Miners beat the continental crap outa of those guys in 2014, dominating in every phase, 34-0. The 2016 visit was memorable, too, the Miners winning, 52-49.

(Question 3) “Opt out.” The NCAA has declared that any man, woman or child who chooses NOT to play football this season may — with no penalty or loss of eligibility — sit out the year. Take a big timeout, without losing a year of eligibility. Teams may expand to 105 their rosters, from the current limit of 85. But for next year only. So what does this mean for UTEP?

Answers: Plenty. UTEP can ill afford to have all those kids on scholarship? Recruiting for the class of 2021 continues, just as game attendance and donations have taken a nose-dive. Athletic Director Jim Senter went public with his announcement that coaches, even in women’s and men’s basketball, would take a pay cut. 

Extra burden on the budget, in the form of what is called “cost of attendance,” must be paid somehow. Something’s gotta give. Resource management (roster juggling) will never be more critical than now through Signing Day, February 2021.

(Pain Pill) The luxury of 105 scholarships is only temporary, if UTEP can afford it all. With every player over the 85 threshold, there must be equal subtraction by late 2021. Dana Dimel doesn’t need a hotshot recruiter on his staff, he needs a bean counter. He might also need a speech writer.

Imagine having to call a kid into your office, to tell him his services are no longer required. The Blade. You just got cut, kid. Almost certainly this will lead to tender feelings. Any kid who gets the trap door is likely to hate UTEP and everything associated with it. Not me.

Back in Miners Hall, where former teammates would disappear under the guise of darkness, we had saying: “If you stay, you play.” Competing in the Western Athletic Conference (BYU, Utah, Colorado State, New Mexico, Arizona, Arizona State, Wyoming) taxed my capabilities to the max. But UTEP coaches believed in me, and gave me the opportunity to prove myself. And I can never repay my teammates for what they gave me.

Taking the field with trusted teammates on a crisp autumn Saturday has been one of the joys of my life. UTEP remains my happy place. Soon, not everyone is going to feel the same as I do.

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