New Orleans a 'winner again' after getting awarded 2022 NCAA Men's Final Four

Tulane Director of Athletics Troy Dannen speaks during the press conference where it was announced that the 2022 Final Four basketball tournament has been awarded to New Orleans. The announcement was made during a press conference at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, Thursday, November 10, 2016. (Photo by Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen started the phone call off responding to whether it's been a long day.

"They all are right now," Dannen said. "They all are."

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That's life when you're the top boss of a college athletic department in the middle of a global pandemic. Especially on Thursday, when the Big Ten Conference's announcement that it will only play league football games this fall eliminated a game on Tulane's schedule.

Tulane, a member of the American Athletic Conference, was on the books to play Northwestern on Sept. 12 in Evanston, Illinois — the front end of a home-and-home series that has Northwestern playing in Yulman Stadium in 2025.

There is no major financial loss — outside of alumni and fans that intended to travel up north — and the schools will have to reschedule the Illinois game to a later year.

Now, Dannen has a short window to find a fill-in opponent before the season begins.

If it begins.

"Oh, I've already made calls," Dannen said.

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There is no guarantee Tulane will fill the spot, Dannen said, and, if no opponent is secured, the Green Wave will proceed with an 11-game schedule.

The pickings are slimmer, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Tulane to schedule another Power 5 opponent.

Within an hour of the Big Ten's official announcement, reports emerged that the Pac-12 Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference are also expected to shorten their football seasons to conference games only.

The smattering of news mirrored the domino-effect of league basketball tournament cancellations back in March during the initial spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

The sweeping reports deepened the growing question of whether a college football season will happen at all. Coronavirus cases are spiking once again in areas across the country, and, as state and local governments halt re-opening plans and implement laws inhibiting large gatherings, sports leagues are following suit.

The Big Ten's public statement even included a notable caveat: "if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports... based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports."

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Dannen was among the athletic leaders that were surprised by the timing of such decisions. Dissenters believe it's too early. The Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 Conference are the only remaining Power 5 leagues that have not yet announced their intentions.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement that the league "will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks" regarding the fate of fall sports, and he said earlier in the week that there should be more clarity "by late July."

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the Dallas Morning News, regarding the Big Ten's decision, "I believe it's early to make that sort of a decision but perhaps they have a different perspective."

The United States had 64,771 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 991 new deaths on Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The case total was the highest of the year, a number that shrouds the number of confirmed cases on March 13, (267) back when sports leagues were collectively deciding to suspend play across the country.

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Another trend of cancellations and postponements appears to be emerging, following decisions Historically Black Colleges and Universities made in late June.

Southern's first two games have been reportedly canceled and are no longer listed on the school's official schedule, although athletic director Roman Banks said plans aren't finalized yet. Jackson State scratched its first two games, and Morehouse College canceled all of its fall sports due to coronavirus concerns.

The Ivy League, which was the first league to cancel its conference college basketball tournaments, announced Wednesday afternoon that it will not hold competitions in the fall semester at all.

There were signs that some of the major leagues were likely to follow similar paths: the Big Ten's Ohio State and the ACC's North Carolina both suspended voluntary workouts on Wednesday after positive COVID-19 tests.

Unlike the Ivy League, the Big Ten's less-drastic decision to only play conference games preserves a bulk of the season while buying more time to decide the fate of the rest of the season.

The ACC also announced Thursday morning that no exhibition or regular season games will begin until Sept. 1, although practices can still take place.

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Meanwhile, the SEC and Big 12 are proceeding as scheduled. Starting Monday, schools can spend up to eight hours per week on weight training and conditioning and can also arrange two hours per week of film study.

On July 24, teams can hold walk-through practices with footballs and in-person meetings. For two weeks, players may spend up to 20 hours per week combined conducting weight training and conditioning, non-padded practices and meetings. Players must receive at least two days off.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday on WWL Radio's "SportsTalk" with Bobby Hebert and Kristian Garic "we've been told that in all likelihood we're playing. If that changes, that's out of our control."

Orgeron said LSU's case numbers are "way down" from its initial spike after voluntary workouts began June 9, when most of the team's cases were due to players attending bars in Tigerland.

LSU's total number of cases focused around a group of five to six players, a source told The Advocate. No players were hospitalized and each case showed mild symptoms. Sports Illustrated reported at least 30 of LSU's football team was isolated because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or were in contact with others who tested positive.

"The number 30 was not correct," Orgeron said. "That was inaccurate. I don't know who said that. It wasn't that high. But we did have a little spike. Now it's going down. I think it's under control. I think it's a fairly low number right now that we're very pleased with. It looks like everything's going smooth for us."

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LSU's high-profile rematch with Texas in Tiger Stadium on Sept. 12 remains intact, due to the SEC's and Big 12's current position. But if both conferences decide to also cancel its nonconference schedule, that won't be the only game to fall in Louisiana.

Several games hang in the balance for Louisiana's Group of 5 and Football Championship Series programs, and each of them are tied to hefty guarantees that are essential to their athletic budgets.

Louisiana-Monroe is scheduled to play at Georgia (Sept. 26) and Arkansas (Nov. 21); Nicholls State plays at LSU on Oct. 3; Louisiana-Lafayette plays at Missouri on Nov. 21; Tulane plays at Mississippi State on Sept. 26; and Louisiana Tech plays at Baylor (Sept. 26) and Vanderbilt (Nov. 21).

Dannen said he's probably talked with "50 athletic directors in the last week," and there's a common apprehension about whether teams are going to be able to move forward with fall sports as scheduled.

Dannen was on a call with AAC athletic directors Thursday morning, and each reaffirmed the schools intend to play all 12 games on their football schedule.

"The one thing this is showing is there's no national synergy," Dannen said. 

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.