SEC Reverses Field, Postpones Games

Less than 24 hours after announcing that the games would go on, the Southeastern Conference reversed field Thursday and announced that games this weekend would not be played. Thus, the SEC, including Alabama, fell into line with almost all organized sports in electing to cancel or postpone games scheduled on the first weekend following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The statement from the SEC said that the possibility of rescheduling games would be determined "at an appropriate time." The league reaffirmed its commitment of a $1 million donation to assist the victims of the terrorism.

Alabama had been scheduled to play Southern Miss at Legion Field in Birmingham Saturday. The game was to be televised by ESPN2. Earlier in the day there had been a report that the kickoff time had been changed from 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, before that could be confirmed the announcement of the postponements.

On Wednesday the league had announced that by unanimous vote of the athletics directors and presidents of the 12 conference schools, the SEC had determined that it would follow directives of the government and play the games, the reasoning being that America needed to begin the return to normalcy. At the time of the announcement, Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore, who appeared conflicted by the decision, said, "Something could change."

On Thursday those same athletics directors voted unanimously not to play the games. Moore said that the rescheduling process would be difficult. He added, "We will look toward leadership from the league office to resolve those rescheduling issues."

There are extreme problems in logistics in attempting to reschedule the games. Part of the problem is that numerous games will have to be moved to facilitate all league teams being able to play 11 games. There is a suggesting that the SEC Championship Game, currently scheduled for December 1, might have to be moved back. However, the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta, where the game is to be played, is booked for the following weekend, meaning the game might have to be played on some day of the week other than a weekend or that it could be played as late as December 15.

One scenario has Alabama and Mississippi State moving their game, currently scheduled for November 10, to October 27, when both teams are open. Alabama could then play Southern Miss on November 10, when the Golden Eagles have an open date. However, an Alabama official said he thought that Legion Field might be booked that day, which means the game would be moved to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. And that would mean all tickets for Legion Field would have to be exchanged. (That's just one of the many extra expenses that Alabama will face. For instance, game programs had already been printed. A game two months later would require the program to be re-printed.) Another problem is that Mississippi State is going to have to be working to reschedule its game with BYU.

There was a suggestion that teams not worry about re-scheduling the same teams, but instead find new opponents who have open dates. That would affect fans who had tickets to previously scheduled games. Moreover, it's easier said than done.

There's also the fairness factor. Alabama could lose a non-conference game. But it would be quite an advantage for a team such as Tennessee in the SEC race to not have to play its scheduled game at Florida. Teams that expect to be at or around .500 at the end of the year would want to have the 11th game since bowl eligibility requires six victories against Division I teams and a winning record.

Alabama does have insurance against the loss of revenue from a cancelled game.

One reporter asked Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione if he was ever going to get to coach against Southern Miss. The reference was to Franchione preparing his TCU team for the Golden Eagles last year before being hired as Alabama's new head coach and turning over the reins of the Horned Frogs.

Franchione said, "I have mixed emotions. This has been a roller-coaster week for everyone. We didn't know if we were going to play, then we were going to play, and now we're not going to play. I understand the final decision and I don't have any problem with it at all. It is the theme in America. I am very comfortable in being respectful of everyone's security and everyone';s emotions.

"At the same time," he added, "a competitor wants to play the game."

Franchione learned of the postponement just five minutes before Alabama's regularly scheduled 2 p.m. team meeting Thursday. Earlier in the week he had made an alternate practice plan based on the game not being played. Although Thursday's work was not exactly the alternate practice he had planned, he said following the Tide's work in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts that it turned out to be a good practice. He credited the players with having learned to adjust and doing a good job.

"Instead of working on a game plan for anyone, we worked on ourselves," Franchione said. "Of course the kids wanted to play, but I also think it will be good for them to have a few days off. There is some benefit to getting refreshed physically and mentally. But we would have benefitted from playing, too."

Franchione pointed out that this would be a good time on the schedule for an off week. "Although we're not halfway through the schedule, it's our 37th or 38th practice, which is about half the number of practices we will have."

While players will take the next couple of days off, resuming work with a normal Sunday schedule, Bama's coaches will start working on the game plan for Arkansas. Alabama will host Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, September 22, a game that will be telecast by CBS.

From a practical standpoint, Franchione said that Arkansas and Southern Miss have defensive similarities, which means the offense may have benefitted from its practice this week. He also noted that sometimes a team will lose its edge during an open week, but that since the Tide was preparing for a game this week that wasn't the case.

He said he told the players to take care of themselves and get some rest. The players said they were also urged to do some light running just to keep there conditioning.

Franchione's regular call-in radio show, "Hey, Coach," was also cancelled.

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