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What do all these opt outs tell us about Arizona football?

kevin-sumlin-arizona-wildcats-colorado-buffaloes-gunnell-opt-outs-injuries-pac12-press-conference Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Players quit.

Often times it’s during a play. Sometimes it’s for an entire game, and occasionally it’s for a season.

Players can also quit on their coaches. It happens often, actually, especially when the coaches are either abusive or guiding a program into the ground.

The 2020 season has offered a different kind of “quit” for players in the form of opting out. With the Covid-19 pandemic still in full swing, this was a way for players, who were concerned about their safety, to step away without fear or concern over the decision impacting their standing with the team.

Many players took that path before games ever started, which made sense. Arizona had a few guys do it, with defensive lineman JB Brown, running back Bam Smith, linebacker Jack Koceman and QB Kevin Doyle choosing to sit, though Doyle ultimately decided to opt back in before the Pac-12 season began.

The right decisions? It’s hard to say, as up to this point Arizona has seemed to do a good job of keeping the virus away from its program while others around the state, conference and country have not been so fortunate.

Regardless, since the season began Arizona has had its first game postponed before losing its next three. Over that time the Wildcats have also seen more players opt out with a couple more leaving the program altogether.

None have given specific reasons as to why, though it’s tough to believe it’s out of concern for Covid.

Asked about the reported opt outs on Monday, head coach Kevin Sumlin seemed in no mood to elaborate or, as it was, acknowledge the idea that “a handful” of players have chosen not to play.

“We didn’t have a handful of guys opt out,” he said. “We had a handful of guys that were injured in our secondary.”

Pressed a bit on the matter, with cornerback Bobby Wolfe being the subject, Sumlin got a bit defensive and sarcastic.

“We’ll see where that is,” he said. “We’ve had guys who said they’ve opted out and then we’ve seen them play.

“So we’ll see where they are this week.”

Later on Sumlin mentioned that many of the social media opt outs could be reactionary, which has been a theme in 2020.

If ever there has been a year for emotions to run both the gamut and high, this is it.

In some cases, such as with safety Christian Young, injuries indeed appear to be a factor. In others, perhaps with Wolfe (if he’s even opted out), a lack of playing time could be the culprit.

There are myriad other possibilities, though it’s easy to look at the team’s record, and the coaching staff which has led them to that record, and assume that there is some kind of mutiny within the program.

It’s happened before, and with the program riding a 10-game losing streak and Sumlin very much being on the hot seat, it would not be much of a surprise.

Even still, though, it is a problem.

“Those guys are getting out of the building and the guys that want to win are staying here,” senior center Josh McCauley, a former walk-on, said. “And I think that’s really good for us.”

That would seem to point to some sort of divide within the locker room. Maybe one exists, and it comes down to players who were recruited to play for a different coaching staff than the one that’s in place now.

Guys like Colin and Brendan Schooler, Scottie Young Jr., Kylan Wilborn and Tony Fields II left before the season began, leaving big holes behind them. Some cited a desire to play at a higher level with others just wanting to be sure they would play at all.

Other players also transferred during the offseason, though their announcements did little to move the needle because players of their stature seeking out opportunities elsewhere is commonplace in college football.

The most recent departures are different, not because of the timing but mostly the likely motivation.

Of the nine players who have left during the season, just three were recruited by Sumlin. Two were dismissed from the team and the third is Wolfe, whose status is apparently in doubt. The other six signed up to play for former coach Rich Rodriguez.

Corner McKenzie Barnes is one of them.

Trouble in, well, not paradise, but whatever you’d call it?

If there is not a battle between players then, ostensibly, the conflict would have to involve the coaches.

The idea that players would not be happy playing for coaches they did not commit to is nothing new, and the fact that the team is losing — a lot — would only serve to aid that mindset. It was always unfair to judge Sumlin based on how he fared with RichRod recruits, whether he won or not.

At the same time there is no rule that says a coach and their staff can’t get along with lead players they did not recruit.

There is plenty of noise surrounding the program and with at most three games left in the season all of the issues that were once simmering beneath the surface may be coming to a boil.

Many see this latest development, as well as the losing streak, and feel like it’s time for the program to move on from Sumlin. It’s difficult to argue, though financial issues may, for lack of a better phrase, buy the embattled coach more time.

With at most three games left in the season, including one against in-state rival Arizona State, there is still time to somewhat salvage things. Based on what McCauley said, perhaps ridding the roster of players who either don’t want to be in Tucson or don’t care to play for the current staff will turn out to be a net gain.

Then again, Arizona is already pretty thin and losing any player who could contribute seems unlikely to be a positive development.

The games will tell the story, and it will be written by the players — and coaches — who are left.