I had never asked San Jose State coach Brent Brennan a question until his postgame news conference at the Arizona Bowl.
By all accounts, Brennan is a great guy. Just this week, his social media director told the story of how his love for the coach was the reason he followed Brennan to San Jose from Oregon State after the 2016 season.
But even great guys make mistakes.
Brennan had an opportunity to explain why six of his players, including five starters, and his coordinators for the offense and defense were unavailable for the bowl game Thursday in Tucson against Ball State, which won 34-13.
Instead, he cited privacy as the reason to not give even a basic explanation. Perhaps that was the advice he received from his bosses in the athletic administration. Maybe it was his own doing.
Whatever the reason, it was wrong for a high-profile figure at Silicon Valley’s major taxpayer-funded public university to not be more forthcoming in light of the controversial moves the football program has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If Stanford, a private school, can announce 100 minutes before its season opener in a news release that three players, including quarterback Davis Mills, were unavailable because of coronavirus issues, San Jose State could have certainly had more to say about why so many key players and coaches were not available for one of the biggest games in program history.
But San Jose State said virtually nothing.
In response to an email Thursday morning from the Bay Area News Group, a longtime athletic department spokesman said he could acknowledge who was “not available” once the game began and that it “would be inappropriate to attribute ‘not available’ strictly to COVID-19 issues or protocols.”
San Jose State never identified the players or coaches nor did it respond to a follow-up question from the Bay Area News Group after the game started.
The players and coaches were identified on San Jose State’s pregame radio show and on the CBS pregame show, which cited the Spartans radio broadcast for breaking the news.
Now we’re left to wonder if their absence was more than coronavirus-related. Did they break curfew? Were they spotted out on the town? Did they even make the trip to Tucson?
The school previously had said its players would be tested last Saturday and everyone with a negative result would fly to Tucson the next day. An athletic department spokesman declined last weekend to provide the results of those tests.
If the coaches were not among those unavailable, an indication that COVID-19 was the reason for their absence, speculation would be even more intense.
Still, it’s not a good look — especially after the only public comment from San Jose State noted that it would be inappropriate to blame their absence strictly on COVID-19 issues.
During the pandemic, interviews with coaches and players have been conducted over Zoom video conference. Reporters seeking to ask a question click on the participant tab, then the raised hand icon. A moderator from the school’s sports information department calls the reporter’s name to ask a question.
After the game Thursday, I was up first.
I asked Brennan if he regretted bringing the team home from Las Vegas after its victory over Boise State in the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 19 — a controversial decision because of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 mandatory 10-day quarantine for people traveling from 150 miles outside the region. I also asked when he learned about losing six players and the two coordinators.
Brennan said he had no regrets.
When I repeated my question about when he heard that the players and coaches were out, Brennan said, “That was game time.”
I clicked on the raised hand icon again but was not called upon while Brennan was speaking.
Brennan was later asked by another reporter if he could say how many of the players and coaches missing were related to the virus. Brennan declined, citing privacy rules, and said he’d answer questions about the game.
San Jose State was hoping to write the perfect finish to an undefeated season. Instead, without a core of players that included star defensive lineman Cade Hall and top receiver Bailey Gaither, the Spartans fell 27 points behind in the first quarter on their way to their only defeat.
Brennan and San Jose State still have a chance to do better than they did Thursday.
If the players and coaches were out because of violations of team rules, say it.
If they were out because of coronavirus positive tests and contact tracing, say it.
If they didn’t make the trip to Arizona, say it.
Brennan doesn’t have to identify the players or discuss specific details. Some of the country’s biggest football programs this season announced cancellations and postponements because of COVID-19 issues without violating privacy laws.
SJSU officials owe a more complete explanation that to the fans/alums who have watched this team all season and are being asked to reach into their wallets for season tickets next year.
It’s what accountable programs across the nation do without violating privacy.
San Jose State, the founding campus of the California State University system, should be no different.
Dan Carter was a reporter for nomad Labs, before becoming the lead editor. Dan has over forty bylines and has reported on countless stories concerning all things related to tech and science. Dan studied at CSUF.