Staying in line with college athletic departments across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Southern announced Friday it has canceled all winter and spring sports events and practice for the remainder of the semester.
The Jaguars men’s and women’s basketball teams never finished their bus trips to the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournaments in Birmingham, Alabama. The SU baseball team finished 6-10 after a loss to UNO on Wednesday, and the softball team went 4-11 after losing to North Alabama the same day. The tennis and track teams were called in from road trips.
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Southern football was set to begin spring practice April 1 with five new coaches on staff. Instead, the coaching staff will report to an empty facility and try to plan for the 2020 season in other ways.
“This is something we’re not familiar with,” football coach Dawson Odums said of the epidemic sweeping across the nation. “Everybody is learning as they go. We don’t know what the next step is. When decisions come from higher authorities, we make our decisions then and adapt. We’re doing more praying now than anything. It’s about lives.”
Odums and baseball coach Kerrick Jackson said they planned to meet with their teams later in the day Friday to discuss options. Players aren’t allowed to use the campus facilities and are free to stay in Baton Rouge or return home. Classes for all students will be conducted online only.
Southern men’s basketball coach Sean Woods said he’s had some difficult conversations with his team trying to explain it but is completely on board.
“We all get it; it’s a situation unique to everyone,” said Woods, whose team won its first-round tournament game Tuesday at home. “I’m trying to get the right words (to tell players) right now. It’s a travesty, but the bigger picture is saving lives.”
One of the rising questions amid the NCAA's mass event cancellation amid coronavirus concerns has been answered.
Athletic director Roman Banks flew home Thursday from Birmingham and has been in meetings with multiple school officials since.
“The president, the University administration, the Board and I thought it was important to recognize student safety first,” Banks said. “We thought it was best to suspend the rest of the season and focus on trying to find a way to get healthy and back to normalcy. When that happens, we can concentrate on athletics.
“Human life is first. Every decision we have made is to protect the student-athlete, coaches and fans. I don’t regret how we have to handle this. We thought through it carefully. We will always err on the side of caution.”
Banks said with the athletic facilities empty, the school will clean and sanitize them thoroughly and then have an outside company come in for more cleaning.
“This new virus may entail something we don’t know about,” Banks said. “We’ve had no cases or symptoms. It takes a while to detect, but we’re healthy and thankful for that.”
LSU’s men’s basketball season ended without a postseason game. Paul Mainieri wondered if he will coach again this season. The school's teams waited for more announcements, and on Thursday, LSU entered an uncertain future.
Jackson said the decision was understandable given the worldwide situation, and he was pleased to hear the NCAA would grant an extra year of eligibility to spring sports athletes, who were roughly a month into their seasons.
As a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association committee, Jackson said he will be considering proposals for the NCAA for next season and perhaps an earlier-than-normal start for summer programs. But he also expressed concern for what happens to his players in the interim.
“I’m afraid of that,” he said. “They’re going to be idle and not know what to do, similar to Christmas break. That’s our most fearful time, five weeks when they aren’t doing anything. We’ll give them some things to do like weight room stuff, keep them active.
“There have been some talks of some summer programs starting earlier, which would be nice. Hopefully we can close that gap with video coaching, video swings and bullpens to keep them active.”
Odums said he’s not worried about recruiting since the coaches are in a dead period until April 15. He said he’s trying to convey a silver lining to his players.
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“I’m telling them this is an opportunity to reflect on life,” he said. “Don’t look at it as something being taken away, but an opportunity to gain, to be around the loved ones you should be caring about and loving every day.”