Editor’s Note: This column by Sam Hanna Jr. was first published the week of Aug. 10, 2020.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the airwaves and sports pages were filled with the news that the Southeastern Conference would pursue a conference-only, 10-game schedule for the 2020 football season and push the start of the season to Sept. 26. All out of concern for the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.
Since each SEC school traditionally faces eight conference foes each year league officials had the daunting task of assigning additional opponents for each school to face in order to round up to a 10-game schedule. Each school would take on two additional cross-conference opponents. That meant since LSU competes in the West Division of the SEC, the Fighting Tigers would pick up two additional opponents from the East Division.
As if it was a gift from the Almighty, LSU learned last week its two additional opponents from the East would be the University of Missouri and Vanderbilt. No offense to Missouri or Vandy, but someone somewhere was looking out for LSU in handing the Tigers two — with all due respect — less than dominant ball clubs to face in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, the University of Louisiana-Monroe and La. Tech University in Ruston set aside their differences for a mere moment and agreed to meet on the gridiron in Shreveport in November. The game would mark the first time in 20 years that the two schools — located roughly 30 miles apart — would play each other in a football game. Whoever is responsible for bringing the two universities together to play a football contest that certainly will be enjoyed by the fans deserves a round of applause or a pat on the back.
That was the lay of the land last week.
Over the weekend, something strange occurred. Out of the blue, the Mid-American Conference announced it would cancel its 2020 football season. That sour news immediately prompted speculation that the Big Ten would follow suit. If the Big Ten walked away from football this fall, the experts opined, the SEC and every other major athletic conference in the country, known as the Power Five, would shutter their seasons as well.
Not so fast, said the SEC on Monday, followed by an official statement from the conference commissioner, Greg Sankey, saying league officials were taking a wait-and-see approach before making a final decision on whether to pull the plug on football. In other words, the SEC would wait on the other Power Five conferences to make their intentions known before the SEC would breathe a word on whether football will be played in the Deep South this fall.
Then Tuesday arrived, and the Big Ten did what was expected all along and “postponed” the 2020 football season until possibly in the spring of 2021.
Over the past several days as speculation swirled that the college football season was in danger of being shuttered altogether, coaches and players from across the country took to social media to express their desires to play this fall, not next spring or whenever. In an interview, Alabama coach Nick Saban noted that his players were safer on campus taking part in team activities in a controlled environment instead of being at home with no one telling them what to do and when to do it. Saban made a good point.
There’s no disputing college football players would be taking a risk by playing this fall, just as they risk major injury every single time they put on pads and a uniform to practice or to compete in a game. Or every single time they enter a weight room to lift weights.
That apparently is beside the point.
Chattering away in the background are our acquaintances and friends in the political sphere who suggest the movement to cancel college football has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the players or out of concern for the liability universities would face if — Heaven forbid — a young man playing college football was exposed to the coronavirus and became deathly ill. Instead, they argue deep-sixing college football would serve as another tool to disrupt life as we know it and thwart the economic activity the college football season generates in college towns and states throughout the United States. Less economic activity presumably leaves a sour taste in the mouths of voters, and that spells bad news for an incumbent president running for re-election.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. Then again, whoever would have imagined FBI agents would knowingly pass along faulty intelligence to the Justice Department where Justice Department officials knowingly used the faulty intelligence to obtain a warrant from a secret court to eavesdrop on the president of the United States?
Maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all.
Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at email@example.com.