Saturdays in Athens
George Somerville. Saturday 15th august 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week as Conferences debate whether football will be played in the fall. So it’s no surprise that this week’s column is dominated by the ongoing debate. Greg Sankey wants us to be patient, Najee Harris wants to play, the Gators are on recruiting fire and Kirby and Matt dig deep to support social justice. It’s been another busy week in the South!
Here are this weeks headlines y’all….
This week, as chaos reigned all around college football, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey attempted to be the calming influence. On Monday we had already heard that BIG 10 AD’s had voted 12-2 in favour of cancelling the season. The strong rumour was that the PAC-12 would follow suit and cancel, and they duly did.
Like a stock market in a crash, Twitter exploded at the thought of a fall (or Spring) without college ball. Everyone (and I mean everyone) made their opinion loud and clear.
Which conference would be next? ACC, BIG XII? Surely not the SEC.
Well, not the SEC. Commissioner Sankey was at pains to try to calm nerves and preach…..well, patience.
Sankey took to Twitter to say,
“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: “Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.”
@SEC has been deliberate at each step since March…slowed return to practice…delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester…Deveoped testing protocols…We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so…every day.”
So, does this tell us that the SEC is going to wait? It certainly seems that way. But until when? With teams scheduled to start fall camps on 17th August, the clock is well and truly ticking. Spring football? Possible but not without it’s own issues.
But would we take that now over no season at all?
Well, yes. We would.
We Want To Play!
As much a part of a will there, won’t there be a season debate is the movement created by the players for the players, “We are United”. First springing up in the PAC-12, the movement gathered momentum spreading into the Mountain West and BIG 10 at speed. This was the student athletes making their voice heard about player safety, health and welfare and financial compensation.
But very quickly and on the back of the decisions by the BIG 10 and PAC 12 to cancel their seasons another voice made itself heard – #WEWANTTOPLAY.
Now to be clear, the We are United movement has never said it would not play. But there was a growing feeling – right or wrong – that the players were leveraging the current position.
Both movements have now, quite rightly, come together and act as one. This has grown support from players outside of the cancelled conferences with marquee players such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Najee Harris lending their support.
Najee Harris tweeted this week that he wanted to play. And then on Friday he faced the media for the first time since last season’s Orange Bowl – the first time that an Alabama player talked to the press. According to Mike Rodak at AI.com Harris had this to say,
“Us athletes want to play to create value for ourselves. We’re kind of iffy about the season, (but) age and time still moves on. We can’t take that back.”
Harris went on to say,
“For a running back, age plays such a factor in the next step. If I came back (for a senior season) and I’m already 22. Then if I come back for another season I’ll be 23, they can probably use that against me”.
And one last word on the matter. Head Coaches have been a little slow to come out on this subject. But Nick Saban opened up to ESPN’s Chris Low and had this to say,
“I want to play, but I want to play for the player’s sake. I know I’ll be criticised no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have a round a 2% positive ratio on our team since the 4th of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out”.
The Gator Chomp
If I’m entirely honest the Gators don’t feature nearly enough in this column. Dan Mullen’s team go about their business quietly and diligently. Much like Coach Mullen himself; quiet and understated. But ignore that Gator lurking in the shallows at your peril. Them Gators bite!
And if to prove a point, this week the Gators came out of the shadows and gave us something to talk about.
Up until this week, Florida’s 2021 recruiting program* had looked impressive.
Not content with this, the Gators recruiting got a significant boost with the news that 4* defensive back Corey Collier and 5* cornerback Jason Marshall had committed to the Gators.
Both recruits had played their high school football at the Palmetto High School in Florida and had been courted in state by Miami and the Gators as well as National Champs, LSU.
Both players are ranked highly nationally, and as a result propels the Gators to #6 in the 247Sports recruiting team rankings.
Collier and Marshall are the latest recruits in a good run of recruiting that the Gators have been on. In recent weeks Dan Mullen and his staff have secured the talents of 4* receiver Marcus Burke, 3* centre Jake Slaughter, 3* long snapper Rocco Underwood and 3* defensive tackle Desmond Watson.
Social justice, or more importantly social injustice, has never been far from the front page of news outlets this year. And during this time it has become a regular topic of discussion on college campuses and by extension within college athletics programs. Kylin Hill’s stand at Mississippi State is one such positive example.
So the announcement Friday that Georgia alumni Matt Stafford and his wife Kelly, and Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart and his wife Mary Beth have endowed $500,000 to a social justice program supporting UGA student athletes was a welcome step from within football to help athletes through such issues.
The news was broken via twitter by Adam Schefter which quoted UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity as saying,
“The University of Georgia Athletic Association has launched an ambitious program that seeks to implement strategic initiatives in the areas of diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice”
The statement went on to say,
“To fund the cost of the initiative in perpetuity, initial significant gifts totalling $500,000 have been made by former UGA quarterback Matt Stafford and his wife Kelly ($350,000) and current Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart and his wife Mary Beth ($150,000). These commitments are part of larger gifts made by both the Staffords and Smarts, the specifics of which will be forthcoming as they are finalized.
“The generosity of Matthew and Coach Smart allows the Athletic Association to implement strategic initiatives in diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice. These gifts will help the Athletic Association educate, implement dynamic programming and execute service opportunities to achieve our goals, those being to foster critical consciousness, cultural competence and further developing change within the Athletic Association and our greater community.”
While Kirby Smart is the current Head Coach of the Bulldogs, Smart also played at UGA as a defensive back from ’95 to ’98. Stafford goes down in history as a Georgia great, playing football in Athens from ’06 to ’08.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.