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Archive for Monday, September 17, 2001

Will college football ever be same?

Down-the-line plans will be difficult to make if Tuesday’s calamitous events are first of many

September 17, 2001

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— This was supposed to have started with the dateline "Gainesville, Fla." Since early August, our college coverage plans had me assigned to cover the Tennessee-Florida game.

Thankfully, there was no game. The stadiums were as silent as the skies were Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday night the boss called and asked if I still planned on covering the game, which at the time was on as scheduled. I said "No." This was not about fear. I wasn't afraid to fly. As my wife pointed out, this is probably the safest time in our history to get on a commercial jet.

But would my 7-year-old son wonder if he's ever going to see his father again? And perhaps I'm not heeding my own level of professional pride, but the idea of trying to write and make sense about a college football game, even an important one, seemed incredibly trivial and senseless.

It is equally difficult to understand why it took until Thursday afternoon, after the NFL decided not to play, for all of NCAA Div.-I football to get on the same page and postpone its games.

No matter who is right or who is wrong in the "play, don't play" debate, rejoice in the fact that there was a debate. There is no ayatollah who says, "Thou shall not play." The issue can be argued and debated, the final decision criticized. We have the right to think what we want and then express our opinions. Try that in Afghanistan.

There were valid reasons for playing. I believe the leaders of the conferences and schools who waited until Thursday to postpone were in some sort of shock. It was like they were reacting to some sort of major weather disaster. They said, "Maybe we can provide a diversion from the horrific reality, show the world that we are continuing our lives as normal."

Normal? Will that word ever have the same meaning? There is already talk about next weekend's games. The ball-of-ice fear in my stomach is that Tuesday's calamitous events were simply the first of many. With every "we have breaking news" announcement, I duck and cover, wondering what's next. Our vulnerability is showing and our shadowy enemies know it.

Against that backdrop, who can think about college football or any other games? In covering sports, you can plan ahead, look at schedules, make assumptions on which games will be important. How can anything be assumed now? Making plans in the face of terrorist attacks seems a fruitless endeavor. What was a month-to-month, week-to-week, day-to-day work schedule is reduced to minute-by-interminable minute.

So what if college football has a 10-game season in 2001? What better way for history to remember and mark these horrific events? If 25, 50 or 100 years from now, someone looks back on this season in a record book and sees an asterisk and the explanation for it, maybe that will make sure they pause and remember and reflect.

I'm on a bunch of e-mail lists so I get plenty of college football "junk mail." One of my e-mails Friday was a "media reminder" from the Middle Tennessee sports information department: "The Middle Tennessee football press conference will resume on Monday at 2:30 p.m."

Back to business, back to the games, back to normal. Oh, were it that simple.

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