M.M. Roberts Stadium

Fans pack M.M. Roberts Stadium to watch Southern Miss' 2019 football game against Alcorn State. (Photo courtesy of Mississippi Today)

 

Alcorn State was supposed to open the season at Auburn with Alcorn receiving a guarantee of $475,000. That's a huge chunk of the school’s approximately $6.5 million athletic budget.

The dominos continue to fall in college sports. The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced Monday the postponement of all fall sports, including football, until the spring semester.

The SWAC follows the Ivy League, the Colonial Athletic Conference, the Patriot League and others in either postponing or canceling the football season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Pacific-12 and Big Ten, two power conferences, have announced they will play conference games only. More leagues making more decisions are certain to follow. In Division II, Gulf South Conference presidents, including those from Delta State and Mississippi College, had a conference call Tuesday to address the football question. An answer was expected soon. Bet on this: A full season will not be played this fall in the GSC.

The Southeastern Conference and Conference USA continue to assess the situation. Both leagues have indicated they need to reach a decision by the end of July.

The SWAC decision has far-reaching ramifications, including huge financial hits — inside the SWAC and out. Jackson State was supposed to play at Southern Miss on Sept. 19. That game — a relatively huge pay day for both Mississippi schools — will not happen.

Alcorn State was supposed to open the season at Auburn with Alcorn receiving a guarantee of $475,000. That's a huge chunk of the school’s approximately $6.5 million athletic budget.

“You tighten your belt, you be as frugal as you can and you prepare for the future,” Alcorn State Athletics Director Derrick Horne said. “It’s not like we haven’t known this was a possibility. We’ve been discussing various scenarios, including this one, since late February and early March.

“The thing is, the health and safety of our student-athletes has to be the No. 1 concern. In the SWAC, we just felt, given all the circumstances, this was our best option.”

Horne was talking just after Tuesday’s news that the state health department reported a record number of 1,635 new COVID-19 cases. The number of cases has increased by 50 percent in the last week. Reminder: You cannot socially distance in football, the ultimate team contact sport.

“It’s escalating and we have another big holiday (Labor Day) coming up before football was supposed to start,” is the way Horne put it.

But the SWAC’s “best option” — of postponing traditional fall sports to spring — will have its own stresses other than financial. For instance, imagine being the athletic director at a time when your football team has a big home conference football game on a February Saturday, while your basketball teams, men and women, play key home basketball games, your baseball and softball teams compete on the road, and your soccer, tennis, volleyball, track-and-field and cross-country teams all have events here and there.

“You know you gotta get it done,” he said. “You all pitch in. A lot of people don’t understand that the spring sports season is such a busy time anyway. This will just be a whole ‘nother level of engagement. You just do what has to be done.”

Keep in mind, Horne has four assistant athletic directors at Alcorn, compared to more than 30 assistant and associate directors each at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Horne’s staff will be stretched thinner than thin.

At Southern Miss, athletic director Jeremy McClain reportedly is looking for a game to replace the Sept. 19 Jackson State game. Finding an opponent shouldn’t be that difficult given that athletic directors across the nation are facing similar problems. But finding an opponent that would have drawn as many fans as Jackson State won’t happen.

Keep in mind also, we don’t even know how many fans will be allowed into games — if, indeed, any games are played.

The only thing certain is college sports these days is this: uncertainty.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.

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