ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WIS) - The COVID-19 pandemic has toppled yet another domino in the world of college football.
On Thursday, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced it would suspend all fall sports because of the outbreak.
The decision now leaves South Carolina State and other schools across the southeast without an opportunity to compete on the gridiron and other sports come September.
“I’m a little bit brokenhearted,” Bulldogs head football coach Buddy Pough admitted. “I don’t know if it’s sunk in completely yet. This is a totally unusual set of circumstances. The health and welfare of our team, our young men, all of the people that are involved, the fans, when you start talking about who you’re involved with when you put on a game such as this, it’s really tough to think about. At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that we do the very best we can by all the people that are involved.”
The decision comes one week after the SIAC opted to suspend fall sports putting competition on hold for Benedict’s football team and other student-athletes. Pough said he program was in the process of making decisions regarding how to move forward but believes this was the best move that could have been made.
“It was a situation where we wanted to try to give our fan base, our university, the operational aspects of our schools a chance to actually know where they were headed,” Pough said. “At that point, we were getting right to a place where we were trying to decide whether to bring our kids in. We were up against the wall as far as the expenses and all the different kinds of things involved and put together our preseason camps. We needed to know and, at that point, it was something that we thought needed to be done.”
Like many other schools, football brings in a lot of revenue for SC State. Without a season, Pough said he was “afraid to think of what all might be because of this” in terms of the impact the pandemic has on programs at the university. However, Pough believes the health and well-being of all the student-athletes, staff, and fans trump the opportunity to hold an athletic contest.
“Sometimes, you know, there are bigger items out there than finances,” Pough said, “and this is one of those situations where we had to do what was very best for our people, for our young men, for our student-athletes, for all that are involved in our university’s process with the actual operation of football or sports in general because we had other sports, too. Our volleyball program, our women’s soccer program, we had other fall sports that had the same type of circumstances as us. It was a decision that we just thought had to be made. I take [my hat] off to the powers that be. They had to make a decision and they went on and made it. It was, I’m sure, a real tough one for us.”
Fall sports may be suspended, but Pough hopes teams can play in the spring. In fact, he said the conference has put together a six-game conference schedule that could work in the spring. Regardless of whether that happens, Pough sees a silver lining for a few of his players who are seniors with only a few more opportunities left to play.
“You’re concerned about all the circumstances that might be given this situation,” Pough said, “Anytime you’re doing something for the very first time, you’re looking for any kind of thing you can to hang your hat on that may turn any negative into a positive. Let’s say, for instance, we’ve got guys that are redshirt seniors or guys that have graduated coming back expecting to be here one semester. Let’s say they were to come back next fall. Those guys may be granted a sixth year. That way, it may give a guy like that a chance to earn a Master’s [degree] out of the process that he ordinarily would have been out and gone because his football eligibility would be gone and he would have been simply out into the work world or whatever might have been. Hopefully, we’ll have some situations like that that’ll be able to take place that we can say, ‘You know what, if it hadn’t been for that, he wouldn’t have had this opportunity.”
MEAC officials say they plan to go on with winter sports competitions as scheduled, unless health and medical professionals advise otherwise.