College is starting right around the corner and so with that, collegiate sports is getting ready to kick off. This year though, things will not be the same as COVID-19 has struck. The pandemic hit heavy in March, taking away March Madness, and now with fall sports coming around, and most notably football season, things will not be the same.
Tennessee State University (TSU), like other programs across the country, are wondering how things are going to look and for first-year athletic director, Dr. Mikki Allen, things are still unfolding across the board.
“Right now, obviously, our classics are not going to happen. The Southern Heritage Classic got cancelled and our classic against Southern in Detroit got cancelled. Financially, $750,000 in guarantees went away with those two games. We have had to make some adjustments around that and make some cost saving moves around travel and other things.
The financial hit will hurt, but the safety of the players comes first. As far as the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and conference play, how that picture will look is still being worked out.
“The OVC right now has a stance to listen and pay attention to the other conferences and look at all models regarding fall sports. The spring model has been looked at as well. The biggest thing we are wrestling with is consistency when it comes to testing and the NCAA has a mandate to have testing done 72 hours before a competition.”
Dr. Allen also stated that in addition to speaking with the conference, Tennessee State has been having meetings to work out things not only for fall sports but for the entire campus with their pandemic task force team. And along with that, TSU is working with Dr. Hickerson from Meharry Medical College along with their own physician on campus, Dr. Harvey Bowles to make sure they have a testing program that will work for all fall sports.
For a first-time athletic director, this unique situation can be a lot to take in, but Allen is focused and ready to take on the challenge.
“My job as an AD is to provide the resources, whether it be academically or financially or wherever, for the welfare of our student-athletes. As a leader in college athletics, you have to make the best decisions for the kids you serve.”
One big step he has taken in being the athletic director for the first time is making sure that kids and their parents are not worried about their scholarships, telling them their financial aid will still be intact whether they play this fall or not. Along with that, he has also assured parents of plans in place in case of someone contracting the virus and how they plan to isolate it and do contact tracing.
Tennessee State University football and volleyball student-athletes report back on August 7th and 8th, the other programs report on the 10th and the students start coming back on the 11th and 12th. Also, all student-athletes will have to get tested 10 days before arriving on campus and depending on the level of comfort of students, an option is available for students to take classes online as well as the in-person classes.
Regarding the football team, the season is slated to begin September 26th as the Tigers are supposed to be heading to Jacksonville State in what will be the start of an all-OVC conference game schedule this season and as of right now, TSU’s Homecoming game is scheduled for October 10th versus Southeast Missouri. The game is scheduled to be at Nissan Stadium with tickets available on Ticketmaster while things are getting sorted out leading up to the game, as well as any other games this season at the home of the Titans.
“Our fans will get a chance to purchase tickets, but we are determining things along with Nissan Stadium and we are still waiting for the Titans and how they are going to want to handle things, but we will have a plan in place for our fans. We are trying to get a picture of what a schedule looks like from a conference standpoint. Once we get that, then we can get the information out the fans as far as tickets and everything.”
Dr. Allen said the band will not be able to take the field during these games as things currently stand, but they will be able to be present while observing social distancing of course.
He also wanted to make it a point to keep TSU’s season ticket holders personally aware and talk them through things as the season gets closer, so there have been outbound calls made from the ticket office to the season ticket holders as well.
Fall sports over at Tennessee State University will have a unique feel considering the state we are in regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and it will be interesting to see how things play out.