When UTEP finally plays a game in West Texas, the Miners will be turning back to the Friday Night Lights – or at least the Friday Morning Lights.
The Miners’ game against UAB will now take place on Friday, Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, a high school stadium that serves as home of Midland High School and Midland Lee.
The “home game” lies 300 miles east of the Sun Bowl, but UTEP has been unable to play in El Paso since a 17-13 win over Abilene Christian on Sept. 19 because of rising cases of COVID-19 in the region. The Miners have played two road games and either postponed or cancelled three games over that period.
“We felt hosting UAB in Midland will give us the best opportunity to get on the field and compete,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “While we are disappointed that we will not be playing in front of our home crowd, we are looking forward to the opportunity to play the game at Grande Stadium.”
To try and keep the season going, the University of Texas system conversed about locations for UTEP to play. D-II UTPB suggested Grande Stadium, as the Falcons play one game there every season.
“We have a great facility,” said Andy Cedillo, recreation manager at the City of Midland. “It’s a great location next door to a minor league ballpark. We have four auxiliary football fields next to it and four locker rooms. It’s as pretty a high school stadium as you’re going to find anywhere.”
The City of Midland has access to a Division I chain crew through the Permian Basin Association and can adjust the goalposts to NCAA standards. Additionally, the city will test any sideline personnel for COVID-19 at least 48 hours before the game. While Grande ranks among the biggest stadiums in high school football with room for more than 15,000 fans, spectators will not be allowed in the stadium for the college game.
Perhaps the craziest part about the new scheduling decision? UTEP’s matchup actually takes place the same day as Midland High vs. Midland Lee, a game that pits the city’s two largest high schools against each other. The rivalry game takes place at 7 p.m. that night.
“It was a little bit of a concern,” Cedillo said. “Noon and 1 p.m. we were pushing it in case the game went into overtime.”
However, scheduling the game at 11 a.m. – eight hours before the high school game – gives Grande Stadium personnel time to clean and sanitize every locker room, press box and suite. That process will begin at approximately 4 p.m.
Usually, Midland ISD would give an opposing team additional time in the stadium for a pregame meal. Thankfully, that won’t be an issue since both teams playing under the Friday Night Lights are playing at their home stadium, so the 5 p.m. hour is open for staff to do their jobs and create as safe an environment as possible.
El Paso County ranks as one of the worst hotspots for COVID-19 in the world. Its case rate ranks six times higher than the national average. In the last seven days alone, El Paso County has reported 12,622 new cases.
Midland County has slightly elevated numbers, but the region has handled playing football three times a week relatively well. The city is confident that the game will provide a strong opportunity to show the best of Midland. UTEP will try and move towards its first winning season since 2014.
“It’s great exposure,” Cedillo said. “We’re going to provide suites for administration at both UTEP and UAB. Our chamber is going to hold little activities for both.
“We’ve still got a couple things we’ve got to turn around but it looks promising.”
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