southern football stock

Southern Jaguars run onto the field accompanied by a sparkly display for their home football opener against Edward Waters College, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

The fate of Southern’s football season will be decided Monday.

Southwestern Athletic Conference presidents will meet virtually to decide which path to take with the SWAC's fall sports, including possibly postponing them until the spring, commissioner Charles McClelland said.

"No decision has been made yet," McClelland said.

The commissioner disputed a report by Stadium Network that said the league will announce Monday that it will cancel fall sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whoever put that report out is 100% not accurate, although I cannot say how our presidents will vote Monday,” McClelland said.

Several plans are up for consideration: starting on time, which McClelland admitted is “probably not realistic;” delaying the season until Oct. 17, a long-discussed alternative within the conference; or moving football season to the spring.

Asked if an outright cancellation is possible, McClelland said “all options are on the table. …

“What we’ve always said and will continue to say is that the health and safety of not only our student-athletes, but all constituents involved, will be our No. 1 priority.”

Attempts to reach athletic director Roman Banks were unsuccessful Friday.

Southern already has dropped two high-profile nonconference games because of concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic: a neutral-site game Sept. 5 against Tennessee State in Detroit, which was supposed to be the season opener, and a much-anticipated home game Sept. 12 against longtime rival Florida A&M, which has not visited A.W. Mumford Stadium since 2008.

Southern is scheduled to begin its season Sept. 19 at Alabama A&M, the first of nine SWAC games. The Jaguars have one remaining nonconference game, scheduled for Oct. 31 against NAIA Florida Memorial.

If the SWAC opts to wipe out sports in the fall, it would be the fifth conference to do so this summer.

The Ivy League was the first to act July 8, saying it will keep open the option of playing fall sports in the spring semester. The Patriot League followed suit Monday, and the Colonial Athletic Association did the same Friday.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced Thursday it would suspend fall sports — a move that had ripple effects on the SWAC.

The MEAC's announcement canceled this year's Celebration Bowl, which for the past five years has pitted its champion against the SWAC champion. It also wiped out the MEAC/SWAC Challenge between Grambling and South Carolina State, scheduled for Labor Day weekend in Atlanta.

Florida A&M had also scheduled a Sept. 12 trip to Jackson State after its game at Southern was canceled.

“Obviously this is an arduous decision, because everyone wants to have a fall season for student-athletes, fans and others,” MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said in a statement. “Part of our responsibility is to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is paramount.”

McClelland said Monday’s meeting was already scheduled before the MEAC’s announcement, adding that “our decision was always going to be separate and autonomous and in the best interests of our membership.”

A move to cancel or postpone fall football also would have ripple effects on other teams, including those from Conference USA and the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn’s season opener is Sept. 5 against Alcorn State, Southern Miss is scheduled to host Jackson State on Sept. 19 and Mississippi State has a Nov. 21 game against Alabama A&M.

If the SWAC cancels the season, it would also mean the annual Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling wouldn't be played. The Bayou Classic, first played in 1974, had a $50 million impact on the city of New Orleans in 2018, according to game officials. Southern and Grambling have played each other every year since 1959. 


Email Rod Walker at rwalker@theadvocate.com