BATON ROUGE, La. (The Advocate) - Two months of near unrelenting gloom and doom because of the coronavirus pandemic are starting to give way to thin shafts of light piercing through the clouds. NASCAR racing resuming this weekend. A pro golf charity foursome teeing it up Sunday for the first televised event at the legendary Seminole Golf Club in Florida, an exhibition on the way to the PGA Tour resuming in June. Major league baseball could be back in July, reports say. Even NBA superstars apparently engaged in a multi-yacht and private island-to-island conference call to tell their league that they want to finish the season abruptly halted in March.
And now, amid news that LSU’s football coaches have returned to work amid masks and social distancing measures, hopeful indications that LSU football players will be returning to campus next month to begin preparing for the 2020 season. A season that, bit by encouraging bit, is beginning to look more like it will happen at some point.
In the first few pre-pandemic weeks after LSU stormed to its 15-0, national championship-winning season, the victory celebration was punctuated by a post-championship hangover as it became apparent LSU would be down about two-thirds of its starters and two key assistant coaches from that 2019 title team. Starts that included early departing juniors like K’Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpit, Justin Jefferson and (who woulda thought?) Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Plus, of course, the seniors who had to go like Heisman winner Joe Burrow and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.
But all anyone needed, of course, was a little pandemic perspective. Now, instead of worried about the season, LSU football fans like football fans everywhere are just, “Gimmie the season, whatever it looks like!”
That perspective will also change assuming the ball truly gets rolling and the season opener draws near. Then everyone will start looking at the rankings and trying to mentally tally the wins their team can be expected to get, including, “Can the Tigers beat Alabama in back-to-back years for the first time since 2010-11?”
For now, just getting football and the other sports back is win enough. Again, assuming that happens.
I use the word “assuming” out of journalistic qualification, some would say equivocation, for what is not certain to be. The combined gross tonnage of unanswered questions and uncleared hurdles out there would outweigh a mothballed airliner. Questions like how to keep everyone healthy? How to conduct coronavirus testing? How to re-integrate traditional classroom settings to the mix? Can there can be fans in the stands and how many?
Expect the bleating to start soon in some circles that college football players are being taken advantage of for the sake of the almighty dollar as it is their sport that primarily keeps all of college athletics afloat. The answer to that is everyone uses someone for something. And it is a fair argument to say that student-athletes can be better cared for, better protected by whatever bubble schools can insulate their players with than with them on their own being exposed to who knows who.
Louisiana gingerly tiptoes into Phase I of the economic reopening process Friday. LSU football, as defined by athletic director Scott Woodward, has already entered its Phase I when the football staff returned to the football complex last week.
The next phase is getting the student-athletes back on campus. LSU has been aiming for a June 1 return, though a vote that has to come within the next two weeks or so by SEC school presidents and chancellors whether June 1 or June 15 or none of the above will be the return date. Again, the latter is certainly possible as the virus is a shifty and dangerous foe. But based on what we know now, no one is going this far down the field talking about reopening without figuring out a way to cross the goal line.
The third part of the process is what to do about fans being able to attend games. LSU’s season and home opener Sept. 5 against Texas San Antonio is now less than four months away. An eternity from the typical offseason perspective of the football-starved fan, but not much time on the coronavirus clock.
“This is the one we have no idea about,” Woodward said Wednesday. “When are we going to get butts in the seats? I don’t know the answer to that. I think probably the middle of the summer sometime we’re going to have to decide what we want to do.”
Woodward said his staff is working out various scenarios of how to “get folks back in the stands in a safe and proper fashion.” At this point, it’s my personal view that a full Tiger Stadium (or any stadium) this fall doesn’t look possible. NFL teams like the Miami Dolphins have already outlined how many fans they think they can put in the stands (just under one-fourth of full capacity), but how do you decide which fourth get to attend? That is a needle that has yet to be threaded.
But there is planning. There is hope. And even if the season isn’t what we think of as normal, like having to put on a mask to go grocery shopping, we can adjust to the temporary new normal better than we probably ever thought possible.
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