Powered by Nevco, A New Gameday from CollegeAD focuses on how athletic departments are working towards the eventual return of sports and what that will look like on gameday. SWAC Commissioner, Dr. Charles McClelland, joins the podcast to discuss the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s decision to postpone all fall sports until the spring semester, how the conference arrived at that decision, and what went into creating its spring football plan.
Dr. Charleas McClelland, who recently wrapped up his second year leading the Southwestern Athletic Conference, started the conversation by saying SWAC officials have stayed in constant contact with each other via Zoom and other meeting platforms. He says they’ve maintained communication throughout the pandemic and came up with several plans to ensure the safety of student-athletes and staff within the conference. He explained they had plans to start on time, plans to push it back a week or two and all of these plans have been discussed. The SWAC put a COVID-19 panel together filled with medical experts and had weekly calls with all of the conference commissioners.
He explained that as of two weeks ago, they decided as a conference to postpone bringing student-athletes back to campus for workouts and gave themselves a cushion to make a final decision because they had no student-athletes on campus yet. Dr. Charles McClelland said the decision to postpone until spring started to take shape around two weeks ago as well.
McClelland said that the chair of the athletic directors committee, Jackson State AD Ashley Robinson, really led the charge and got the ADs on the same page and agreed on the plan that pushes the season to the spring. The SWAC’s return-to-play plan calls for a seven-game football schedule after an eight-week training period that would begin in January. League schools would play six conference games and have the option to play one non-conference game. This plan assumes the pandemic is under control by the Spring, Dr. Charles McClelland explained.
He went on to explain that they took a lot of guidance from the NCAA and medical experts. He mentioned that the pandemic itself will dictate how this plays out. He said they wanted to make sure their players had time to get themselves conditioned for the season ahead. He said a lot of the data and timeline of conditioning came from Dr. Brian Hainline with the NCAA. He says this timeline will also give the SWAC time to get into their basketball schedule and they did not want to overlay football on top of the height of basketball. He said within the plan for spring football there’s a week off scheduled for the basketball tournament.
McClelland reiterated the plan is fluid and the pandemic will ultimately dictate how the plan unfolds. He said they are extremely hopeful that the vaccine and trials that are taking place now and he thinks this plan will give experts time to make progress and hopefully see numbers decline in time for spring.
As far as what other leagues are up to, Dr. Charles McClelland says he hasn’t read through any other plans for spring football but says if the SWAC does line up date-wise with other conferences their members still have options. He says if there are no other teams to play, they still have rivalries and possibilities within the SWAC and he says those games will still draw significant crowds and interest.
McClelland explained that keeping an enthusiastic game day crowd in the picture did play a part in their decision making. They are hoping if the pandemic is more under control by the spring that many of the elements of a SWAC game day will remain intact. Battle of the bands, tailgating, etc.
Another point considered in their decision making was the fact that many of their members are in rural communities and may not have access to testing for medical needs if there is a significant outbreak. McClelland said all of those factors came into play when making the decision.
He also said they hope to be able to have some sort of bowl game to wrap up the season. Right now, the plan is for the Cricket Wireless SWAC Football Championship to be the season-ending conference game. He said he plans on having a discussion about the Celebration Bowl over the coming weeks and months.
In addition to football, fall sports that would be impacted are cross country, women soccer, and women’s volleyball. Dr. Charles McClelland said they plan to play those sports in the spring as well. He said they are still formalizing those plans and they do have some preliminary schedules already in the works. He hopes to release those plans within the next two weeks.
He ended the conversation by saying his one message he is constantly driving home is safety. He explained that he has two college-age sons that play sports for their universities and he believes ADs and conference commissioners need to view all student-athletes as their children. If he believes, as a parent, it’s not safe for his sons, then it’s not safe for other student-athletes.