Buckle up college football fans, it’s going to be a crazy ride this year.
We’ve all heard coaches use the cliche next man up, well for the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday it was more like next men up.
The Eagles have 125 players on their roster. Thirty-three of them were unable to play in Saturday’s 27-26 victory over Campbell for a variety of reasons. Coach Chad Lunsford said the reasons included "injuries, a couple of suspensions, a little bit of COVID, and a lot of contact tracing."
In essence, the Eagles were missing a little over one-fourth of their team when they took the field Saturday. Two of those were all-Sun Belt Conference players, while a number of them would have seen significant playing time.
How much that affected the play on the field is up for speculation. Would a full complement of players have turned a one-point victory into a 34-point blowout? It’s doubtful. There were definitely other issues on the field, but it definitely made a difference.
As part of their guidelines the NCAA recommends athletes who test positive for COVID-19 sit out from competition for at least 10 days. Furthermore, anyone who has been in close contact with an individual who tests positive must quarantine for 14 days.
After the game Coach Lunsford continued to mention how well the Eagles have been doing as far as COVID-19 testing goes, but stressed the contact tracing aspect is what has really hurt the Eagles as far as the numbers go.
Basically anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes is out for 14 days. Lunsford went on to say roommates are automatic contacts — if one is out they are all out.
The problem is most roommates have some kind of tie to one another. Maybe they are seniors, or all play on the offensive line. If you happen to have a few special teams members together, you could conceivably lose your kicker, punter and snapper on the same day.
There may be many universities that will try to circumvent the rules. With so much money on the line, particularly at some of the Power-5 schools, perhaps trainers will be strongly encouraged to not reveal information. I assure you that will not happen at Georgia Southern University.
I have heard members of previous coaching staffs voice frustration by how closely Georgia Southern Senior Associate Athletics Director of Sports Medicine Brandy Clouse follows the rules. Her integrity is something that should be applauded, and former players should probably send her a thank you card for times she didn’t allow them to play while following concussion protocols.
This is going to be an ongoing saga, at least until a COVID-19 vaccine is in place. 2020 could be a gambler’s nightmare as week to week you probably won’t know how badly a team has been affected until hours before kickoff.
Teams with depth at positions will be in the best shape, but it will be tough to overcome numbers like 33 players missing in a game.
There are many reasons for concern after watching the Eagles squeak out a one-point victory over an FCS school that went 6-5 last season. I think I would hold off pushing the panic button though until they play an opponent without a quarter of the team missing.
If the Eagles were missing 33 players and the test results have been low, can you imagine what kind of numbers we could be talking about if a team has four or five players test positive?
Eagle fans should be happy they aren’t UCLA or USC right now. Those guys are sitting at home and giving anything to be able to be out there playing, or watching their team play. Talking with the Eagle players after the game you could tell how much it meant to them just to be able to get back on the field.
Chad Lunsford has handled this situation just as he has handled other off the field issues the Eagles have faced recently, being as transparent as he can, with his players safety and best interests in mind. And while Eagle Nation may be disappointed in the final score from Saturday, for that they should be proud and thankful.