I.C. MURRELL — Preparing for reality instead of normalcy

Published 12:03 am Friday, August 14, 2020

When the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolded, all sense of normalcy for the first time in my life went out the door.

This was four years after my maternal grandmother passed away. Numbing as that feeling was, being 234 miles away from her home at a basketball camp in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when I called to check on her, I learned to press forward, never forgetting what she taught me.

Edna Williams lived her life. It was time to build mine.

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Sept. 11, 2001, interrupted collective life in America, unlike July 8, 1997. Our schedules changed and so did security measures, yet we found a way to hang on to certain traditions, like football in the fall.

The coronavirus pandemic has garnered two different responses in the landscape of college football.

One is still prevalent in the South, and by that I mean the Big 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences: These Power Five leagues hold truths, as well as strong feelings, to be self-evident that football in the fall matters.

The other isn’t as limited to geography or prestige: Safety always comes first.

It should be striking, then, that three of the most dominant conferences in football are pressing on with a season that likely won’t culminate in the crowning of a national champion since the Big Ten and Pac-12 won’t play this fall. Even more striking is that two other bowl-level conferences — the Mid-American and Mountain West — and 11 of the 13 Football Championship Subdivision conferences — as of 11:50 a.m. Thursday — have shelved football in the fall (or at least the conference games, in the case of the Southland).

The Southland includes Lamar University, and it followed the lead of leagues like the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which includes Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern universities.

These moves beg the following questions:

  • What are the financial ramifications for these universities? Were they counting on much-needed income before January?
  • How will fan seating look in the fall or spring?
  • When is homecoming now?
  • What would it profit Lamar to play its “money game” against Rice University if the Cardinals are safer not playing conference games?
  • Why were nonconference games in the Southland not postponed?

Let’s provide an answer the last question:

“I think what our presidents have signed off on is the Southland championship opportunity will be in the spring,” Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett said in a Zoom teleconference Thursday. “Institutions may be able to make decisions on their own. In some ways, this has allowed them to do that.”

The FCS teams including Lamar, which offer up to 63 scholarships, need their cash, if indeed Football Bowl Subdivision teams like Rice, which can offer up to 85, are willing to pony up. There’s no word yet on the potential of ticket sales for this Interstate 10 showdown.

Now, how the conference schedules and potential NCAA championships will look is hard to tell. Conference presidents and athletic directors are discussing possibilities given the Southland’s decision to postpone the league slate.

The bigger-name conferences, Burnett added, are choosing to follow the NCAA medical guidance and testing protocols to play this fall.

Whether prestige has anything to do with the Big 12, SEC and ACC to move forward with fall ball is not clear, but the fan bases are much deeper and more passionate than that of Lamar’s caliber.

Given the fluidity of COVID-19’s wrath on society, what if any of the South’s finest leagues — or just one of their universities — bail on fall football?

This is the reality for which we must prepare in an open-ended pandemic, realizing we don’t know what to realize concerning the impact of coronavirus in 2021. We must picture a life in which change is always possible.

Thank God for high school football, right? For now, the University Interscholastic League has only pushed back schedules in classes 6A and 5A, which impact five Jefferson County programs.

But, wait, what if the UIL moves football to the spring?

Well, the world won’t collapse. We can only hope to have more control on COVID-19.

How are we living if we only prepare for the normal? Are we not sharper and wiser if we embrace reality (and beat coronavirus in the process)?

Remember graduation? The graduates took their next step in life, didn’t they? The class of 2020 set an example for all and is simply a class unlike any other.

Well, so is this football season, a lot less normal than in 2001 or 2019. It just so happens a few football teams will help pass this crazy time away.

If it means more football to come alongside basketball, the merrier 2021 shall be.

I.C. Murrell is the editor of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at 409-721-2435 or at ic.murrell@panews.com.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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