This unusual SWAC spring football season has been full of false starts, near misses and disappointments for both Texas Southern and Prairie View because of COVID-19 concerns and protocols.
So it seemed almost appropriate when it was announced this week that both programs would end their truncated seasons relegated to the sidelines instead of the football field. On Tuesday, it was announced that Jackson State canceled its regular-season home finale against Prairie View because of COVID-19 concerns within the program. The next day, the Tigers called off their game at Arkansas-Pine Bluff because of COVID-19 issues.
The Panthers finished their six-game schedule with a 2-1 record while TSU wrapped up their campaign 1-2.
SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland hoped the nation’s COVID-19 issue would be under better control when the decision was made to postpone the 2020 fall season until this spring.
“When I take a look at the spring the best word I can use is unforgettable,” said PV coach Eric Dooley. “It really makes you believe in what you believe in. Like they say, it can test your faith and it tests you because you can work out for a whole week and get right to that doorstep and can’t play.”
That theme had become all too familiar for both Prairie View and TSU this spring. The Tigers last played a game on March 20 – a 51-23 loss to Southern – after seeing their final four games either canceled or forfeited. TSU’s lone win this spring was as a result of a forfeit because Alcorn State opted out of the spring schedule.
Second-year TSU coach Clarence McKinney could not be reached for comment, but in recent weeks had summed up all the missed games to The Defender as a sign of what the world is dealing with.
“There is nothing you can do about it at the end of the day,” said McKinney, whose team still has yet to win a game on the football field during his tenure. “So it’s about adjusting to the times and controlling what you can control, and a lot of these things are out of our control. We just go with the flow.”
Prairie View, meanwhile, saw three of its final four games canceled. The lone game they played during that span was a narrow 36-31 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on April 17, which essentially was for the SWAC West title with both teams coming in undefeated.
“My team, I thought they made some great adjustments for what were up against,” Dooley said. “We had to sit on pause for a little while, but they played. They played the way I knew they were capable of playing. We came up short one game, but overall I thought they did well. It just was a different spring when I look at it.”
Dooley admits that he would have approached the spring season differently had he known the Panthers would only get to play half of its schedule.
“If they had told me I was only going to play three games then I would have treated it as regular spring football practice,” he said. “You just would get a real contest in on Saturdays. So you would practice every day and then at the end of the week, instead of a scrimmage you would get a game in. You after those 15 days are over with there is no more practice.”
But there is a silver lining for not just Prairie View and TSU but all college sports programs. Because of the uncertainty the pandemic has caused, this year does not count against student-athletes eligible playing years. So, players can return in the fall with an extra year of eligibility and with a year of some competition under their belts.
“We got guys some SWAC hours,” Dooley said. “So when they come back in the fall, they’ve been there, done that and it didn’t hurt them. It only helped because they still get that year back.”