Southern football coach Dawson Odums sat in front of the cameras and microphones Saturday night trying to explain the inexplicable.
The football part was easy.
The Jaguars lost 51-27 to Northwestern State in Mumford Stadium because they were minus-5 in turnovers, got picked apart by savvy senior quarterback Zach Adkins and endured freshman mistakes from their freshman quarterbacks, Deonte Shorts and Austin Howard.
But when it came to explaining how three starting defensive backs — Kevin King, D’Andre Woodland and Dionte McDuffy, who had been academically certified by the university to participate in the first two games — could be ordered by the school to sit out the third game because of the university’s academic certification concerns, Odums had a hard time explaining it.
His boss, Athletic Director William Broussard, didn’t have an explanation either. He said he’d try to provide someone from the university who could explain, but that has yet to happen.
Like all football coaches, Odums has learned to suppress a variety of emotions — disappointment, anger, frustration, disgust — in order to offer explanations for football shortcomings, those of his players, his staff and himself.
But it must have been much harder to field the questions Saturday night, trying to explain what could not be explained — the administrative equivalent of not being able to send precisely 11 players on the field at a time or line up appropriately or snap the football effectively in a reasonable period of time.
“This is the third week of the season, and I don’t know of any of my friends in the coaching profession that are going through this,” said Odums, who had seen more than a half-dozen players declared ineligible before Saturday. “So they can’t give me advice.”
Odums was asked whether it was fair to his players to have to try to win football games when five starters are pulled from the team bus less than two hours before the kickoff of the season opener (as was the case Aug. 30 at Louisiana-Lafayette) or when three starters are pulled after the playing of the national anthem (as was the case Saturday).
“I don’t know what’s fair; I don’t understand the term ‘fairness,’ ” he said. “I just know we have to go through this, and we’re doing our best with it.”
Odums, his staff and his players constantly repeat slogans such as “next man up” and “adjust and overcome” — as all teams do — to explain how they deal with adversity, no matter how unexpected it may be.
Of course they can’t dwell on who is unable to play, for whatever reason — no matter how frustrating or inexplicable it may be.
For sure, the last-minute absences don’t excuse the losses to UL-Lafayette in the opener or the one Saturday night. But they contributed to them.
Wide receiver Justin Morgan attributed the slow start Saturday — a 17-0 deficit midway through the first quarter — to “a lack of focus” and having “to shake off certain things” and the improved play in the second half to “getting our heads right.”
He understandably didn’t want to mention the inexplicable last-minute decertifications, but when pressed he admitted they provided a challenge that wasn’t met in the early going.
When Odums was asked whether he understood how players who were deemed academically certified to play in the first two games could be deemed uncertified to play in the third, he chuckled before the question was even completed.
“That’s pretty much like eating a pig and telling me it’s beef,” he said. “I don’t understand that.”
Then he was asked whether anyone from the university had tried to explain it to him. His reply: “You really think somebody can explain that?”
Until someone does, the answer is no.
Every single student-athlete at Southern has been ineligible for NCAA postseason play for nearly a year because the university has been unable to properly document that they were academically eligible. The key to the university’s ongoing and thus far unsuccessful attempt to get that ban lifted is its supposedly upgraded and now adequate system for documenting student-athletes’ eligibility.
Presumably, documenting students’ academic records accurately — as well as the peculiarities of doing so to the NCAA for student-athletes — is a pretty high priority for any university.
As the NCAA evaluates whether Southern has gotten its act together in terms of doing just that for its student-athletes, perhaps it should talk to King, Woodland and McDuffy — and Odums.