Plans In Place

Rick Sarro Thursday, August 20, 2020 Comments Off on Plans In Place
Plans In Place

You know what they say about plans: Get a plan and work the plan. A goal without a plan is just a wish. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Everyone has a plan … until they get hit in the mouth.

The last one is my favorite (thank you, Mike Tyson).

We now have the SEC’s plan for the college football season. The Southland Conference has their plan for the fall. McNeese followed with plans of their own.  

The Big 10 and PAC-12 beat everyone to the punch weeks ago with nifty plans that set the stage for the others. The ACC chimed in with their own twist that involves a dash of the green and gold of Notre Dame, no less.  (How in the world did the ACC pull this lucky leprechaun out of their hat?) 

The Ivy, Patriot and MEAC leagues bypassed the planning pressure with the clock ticking and simply cancelled football. The SWAC’s plan is to eventually play football, but not until the spring of 2021. Actually, it would be more like winterball if the SWAC gets on the field in late January or early February.

I guess a spring season sounds better than nothing.

The professional leagues, with billionaire owners eyeballing the bottom line and putting off calls from the TV network suits who are wondering about airtime and contracts, put pen to paper and mapped out plans to resume seasons in or outside of the bubble.

The PGA, UFC and NASCAR got back to the business of competition before we all broke world records for binge watching Netflix and Prime.

The NBA (the first professional league to officially stop play as the pandemic hit our shores) and Major League Baseball spent months at the planning table but just recently got the games back up and running, but not without hiccups.

Even the Louisiana High School Athletic Association has fought the urge to throw its hand up and just move the prep football season to the spring. The prepsters have a plan in place, but their plans are the most tentative, because we are talking about young kids.

The big daddy of them all is sitting back watching and learning before it has to lay out their own plan of some sort.  That would be the return of the NFL this September.

All of the aforementioned have goals.  They are all trying to prepare for every contingency.  And they all have a plan … with warts and all.

But all these sports conferences, leagues and associations have yet to really be smacked in the mouth by COVID-19.  

The MLB has had to cancel or push back upwards of 17 games due to a higher than expected number of positive tests on the Marlins, Cardinals and some Phillies’ staffers. But sports has not felt the full fury of the coronavirus.

Not yet anyway.

I tend to lean towards the more optimistic side of life. If the NBA’ers can stay out of gentleman clubs and remain inside the squeaky clean Disney bubble in Orlando, then I believe we can eventually crown an NBA champion this year.

If all the MLB teams agree to stop throwing at and hitting Houston Astros’ batters, put the kibosh on high fives, practice some damn dugout distancing; then I bet baseball can get through the shortened 60-game season. We might lose the Florida Marlins for the rest of the year, but who cares. They suck anyway.

Golf and stock car racing really don’t need fans to put on a show in the great outdoors.  

So that brings me back to football, the sport Coach O says the entire country needs to stay sane.

It’s hard to argue with Ed Orgeron on that point after five or so months of COVID confusion and pandemic lockdowns.

The SEC, college football’s undisputed leader (had to clear that up for any displaced Buckeye and Longhorn fans), announced their “scheduling model” and, to no one’s surprise, they will play only a 10-game conference slate.  

As far as LSU goes, that means so long to the games scheduled with UT-San Antonio, Texas, Rice and Nicholls State.     

And hello to two additional SEC league games.  

I think most LSU fans would trade the threesome of UTSA, Rice and Nicholls for an extra meal combo of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri or Vanderbilt. The Texas rematch, on the other hand, is a tough one to give away, but think of the optics and the fodder for critics who say playing any college football game in this environment is just a huge money grab by schools and conferences.

The SEC’s plan is solid and one they really had no other choice to make, especially when you consider the number of games against teams of which they would have no real knowledge of their respective COVID-19 testing and health protocols.

So the defending national champion Tigers will open the season by hosting Ole Miss on Sept. 26.  We think.

That makes more time for quarterback Myles Brennan to work his way into those huge set of cleats vacated by Heisman Trophy winner and NFL number one draft pick, Joe Burrow.

That also makes more time to perfect testing, cleaning protocols and complex pandemic processes and also allows LSU and SEC officials to evaluate the virus longer and evaluate the need for flexibility.

The Southland Conference took a different tack. Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett admitted during his recent online media day that he recognized why the Ivy, Patriot and MEAC leagues scratched football, but the SLC was not going down that road unless forces outside of their control took hold.

In so many words, the Southland Conference said ‘let’s play ball.’

Teams can play their full schedule of 11 games and follow their already announced schedule, unless individual school presidents get nervous and antsy if COVID-19 flares up.

McNeese president Dr. Daryl Burckel, a former Cowboys linebacker in his younger years, has said all along if given the green light, he wants to play football. 

“We are going to have football in our mind. We are going to play until we are told no. If asked, we want to play football and we think we can do it safely. We are bringing our student athletes back safely and responsibly.”

Part of McNeese’s plan for the fall is to cancel all non -conference games for women’s volleyball and soccer (primarily a money saving-budget move), but retain those two non conference football games against UL-Lafayette and the home opener on Sept. 12 against Northern Colorado.

As of Lagniappe’s press time, UL-Lafayette and the Sunbelt Conference, along with Northern Colorado and the Big Sky, have yet to announce whether or not they will play non -conference games, which will affect McNeese greatly of course.

The long-anticipated rivalry game against the Rajun Cajuns in Lafayette is McNeese’s only “guaranteed money” game this season. It’s not a huge $500,000 payout they would get from an LSU or an Oklahoma State, but it’s nothing to scoff at either.  

In these dire financial times every dollar counts.

“I think of our budget if we don’t have the game at UL-Lafayette. Nicholls was supposed to go to LSU this year.  What happens there? What happens is you start looking at a negative domino effect on athletic department budgets. These are unintended consequences that take place, and it will put a strain on a lot of institutions this year,” opined Dr. Burckel.

No word yet on game attendance by fans at any college football campus. That will be first determined and/or approved by individual state governments and governors.  

With no fans allowed at NBA, MLB, PGA, Major League Soccer or for the most part NASCAR, the NCAA and NFL will have go into Uber spin mode to come up with a scenario and plan to allow fans into the stadiums.  

It will be awhile before you get any decision from LSU on game attendance or tailgating. Reports are LSU will offer its 74,000 season ticket holders the option to opt out this season and push their seats to 2021. Or make their 2020 ticket purchase a charitable donation.  

McNeese’s Burckel is more forthright and his “plan” is to have fans at Cowboy Stadium. “Our plan is to have an area of the stadium (east side) that people can social distance if they choose to and if folks are comfortable being in a crowded stand then we will have one side (west side) for fans who have no objections and those who want to social distance can have the other side.”

McNeese, LSU, UL-Lafayette, ULM, Southeastern Louisiana (you know the teams), along with high schools across the state just want to play … if allowed and if deemed safe.

Cowboys first-year head coach Frank Wilson and LSU’s Orgeron will now open August camp to begin season preparations that involve a bit more than the usual weight training and walk-throughs.

Coach O got some national buzz when he recently told Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting at Tiger Stadium that “we need to play football … the country needs us to play football.’ 

Orgeron puts on his best game face when constantly asked about playing the season. “Obviously, that’s out of my control. What is in our control is that we’re going to prepare. I’ll have our team ready. We’re not going to blink, and we’re not going to change our mindset. If they move it back, if they change it, who cares? It doesn’t matter. You call us at midnight, we’ll go play in the pasture.”

I believe him, and you can bet his players would follow him to that cow pasture in full gear.

“If we don’t play, I hope we delay,” Burckel said recently. “Even if we start in January or February, we need to get a season in. All colleges need to get a football season in. I think everyone recognizes that.”

Burckel, with his PhD in economics and finance,  was keying in on the revenue and budget shortfalls if a football season is completely cancelled.

So, they all have their well thought out and dissected plans.

The Power 5 leagues are going mostly conference games only. (The ACC is conference plus-one game with the unexpected move to have Notre Dame join them in conference play for this one season. The Big 12 was expected to announce their intentions Monday).

McNeese and the Southland are hoping to play a full schedule.

The LHSAA needs the state to advance to Phase 3 before any games are even considered.

The NBA’s bubble experiment is proving to be effective.

Baseball, with its larger rosters and much more travel, is working through the COVID-19 issues, but for the most part will still be playing if Commissioner Rob Manfred has his way.

NFL training camps are open. All preseason games have been scratched.  The season is set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 10 with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans. We think.

The Saints expect to host Tom Brady and the revamped Tampa Bay Bucs on Sept. 13 in the Super Dome, empty or not.We think.

And I’m enjoying my PGA golf weekends. Players and caddies only.

Like Iron Mike once said … plans are great, until you get hit in the mouth. 

COVID-19 has unleashed some nasty counter punches of late. Let’s hope we can all stay on our feet and get to the late rounds of this fight very soon.

A knockout of the coronavirus is probably years away. So the best we can hope for are bubbles, massive testing, social distancing, empty stadiums if need be, allowing players the freedom to opt out and the flexibility to bob and weave and change things as they go.

It’s the plan anyway.

Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 Monday through Sunday evenings at 9 pm on Suddenlink cable channel 4 and Saturday and Sunday on CBS Lake Charles/KSWL.  Check local listings.

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