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The Southern University band performs during halftime of the 46th Annual Bayou Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Southern won 30-28.

No SWAC football this fall actually means more than just no SWAC football.

If you know anything about the SWAC, those Saturdays in the fall have always been about more than just the game itself.

No football also means Southern University's Human Jukebox won't get to juke and Grambling's World Famed Marching Band won't get to march and all those other things that make the SWAC what it is.

So for people like D.J. Williams, a former Grambling quarterback and son of Tigers legend Doug Williams, Monday's news hit hard: SWAC leaders voted to postpone the conference's fall sports because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's devastating for this region for Black people and the whole HBCU family and community," Williams said. "This is the time for us. Football is the best recruiting tool for HBCUs. This is why the kids come. People come to see the band. They come to see the football team. Homecoming for all HBCUs is one of the biggest things around. It's just a huge celebration of Black excellence and just your pride."

Considering the circumstances, it was the right thing to do.

But that still doesn't take the sting away for something that is such an important part of fall, especially in the South.

Williams, now an assistant for the New Orleans Saints, grew up attending SWAC games before actually play in them.

"It's so much deeper than just football and sports," Williams said. "It's about the culture and pride."

That pride has always been about much more than the final score. The fifth quarter, the postgame battles between bands, is just as important as the first four quarters. And there are no mad dashes to the concession stands for halftime, a time where fans can stick their chests out even if their team doesn't give them a chance to. The tailgating and trash-talking before and after the game add to it.

And for folks in Louisiana, there is one game in particular that Monday's decision affects.

There won't be a Bayou Classic this fall. That means many families in those divided households all across the state may have to change their Thanksgiving plans. Count Southern fan Reggie Flood among those. The holiday is usually a big deal for his family, with 40-50 folks getting together in Baton Rouge for Thanksgiving.

The routine is typically the same.

Everyone eats Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

Then everyone drives to New Orleans on Friday.

"Then you stop speaking to your family members on Saturday morning before the game," Flood said. "On Sunday you wish everyone safe travels back home, and whoever loses takes a little time to lick their wounds for the next few days and then we are back to normal. So maybe you don't have the big Thanksgiving this year. Not having a Bayou Classic is stunning, because it changes a lot of family traditions."

No Bayou Classic also means the city of New Orleans won't rack up that $50 million impact in revenue generated when Southern and Grambling fans swarm the city. And during the season for home games, cities like Baton Rouge and Grambling and Itta Bena, Mississippi, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, miss out on money too.

But again, it was the right thing to do. The safety and health of the students was top priority in making the decision. The cost involved with testing surely would have made it difficult for most SWAC schools.

Williams agrees with the league's decision.

"It's a much bigger task at hand that our country has to face and handle," Williams said. "So I totally understand it. How can you disagree with the decision? I don't know what the SEC and Pac-12 and all those big-time conferences are doing, but I know HBCUs don't have the funds to do all the testing. We aren't financially equipped to have those protocols in place to test every day and to keep everybody safe like the NFL."

The silver lining in all this is the league plans to try to resume in the spring with a 7-game schedule that would include six conference games plus one non-conference game if a school so chooses.

So SWAC football could be back in the spring.

Eventually it will be in the fall, too.

D.J. Williams knows that. A quote that his dad passed down to him from late Grambling coaching legend Eddie Robinson assures him of that.

"We've won so long doing so much with so little, we can almost do anything with nothing," Williams said. "That's how I look at it. So the SWAC will come back stronger."

But for now, SWAC football (and all the excellence that comes with it) will have to wait.


Email Rod Walker at rwalker@theadvocate.com