Opinion: Looking back, SEC should not have scheduled open dates as so many happened anyway

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE - If ever there was a college football season that did not need scheduled open dates, it was this one because there have been so many COVID-19-scheduled open dates anyway.

LSU and Alabama, for example, just had a COVID-19 open date on Saturday when their game at Tiger Stadium was postponed because of an outbreak of the virus and the subsequent contact tracing and quarantining within the LSU team. This after there was a a scheduled open date for both teams on Nov. 7.

So each program had back-to-back open weeks, which is not good for athletes. It could make the No. 1 Crimson Tide (6-0) rusty, and render rigor mortis to the Tigers (2-3), who looked dead in their last game on Halloween at Auburn in a 48-11 loss.

LSU's two-week break came after it already had a COVID-19 open date on Oct. 17 when its game at Florida on that day was postponed to Dec. 12 because of a rash of cases with the Gators. LSU is clearly well rested. In fact, it has often played as if it needs to get up earlier.

Had the Southeastern Conference not given LSU and Alabama open dates on Nov. 7 and played that day, it could have gotten that game in and not be looking at moving two other teams around now so LSU and Alabama can reschedule their game on Dec. 5.

The SEC has been looking at that plan for several days, which would mean moving LSU's game against Ole Miss on Dec. 5 to Dec. 19 and moving Alabama's game against Kentucky on Dec. 5 to Dec. 12.

And the SEC knew in August that it would likely have postponed games. This is why it left Dec. 12 open for all teams before the Dec. 19 SEC Championship Games for makeups when it devised its 10-game, SEC-only schedule that was very smart all the way around.

Except for one thing:

If you knew you would have makeup games - or at least knew it was probable - then why schedule open dates?

Of the 14 SEC schools, 10 have had one open date scheduled by COVID-19 in addition to their regularly scheduled open dates. LSU has had two COVID open dates - last Saturday and Oct. 17 in addition to its SEC-scheduled open date on Nov. 7. Missouri has also had two.

Had there been no SEC-scheduled open dates, only four SEC schools would have had to play 10 straight weeks, and they are all non-contenders - Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

And don't forget the other natural open date that frequently occurs in the SEC - Vanderbilt on the schedule.

Ole Miss got the Commodores right at mid-season for a relaxing, 54-21 win, in addition to a nice excursion to Nashville - probably the best SEC destination before, during and after games. South Carolina also got an "open" week at Vanderbilt on Oct. 10 for a breezy, 41-7 win. 

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Kentucky was not so lucky, but it did get Mississippi State at home on Oct. 10 and a stress-light, 24-2 victory.

Arkansas would have had 10 straight weeks without Vanderbilt, which fell to 0-6 on Saturday. But hey, the way the Razorbacks played from 2017-19 with an 8-28 overall record and 1-23 mark in the SEC, they have an impressive backlog of Saturday rest.

And where did this mindset come from that it is so difficult for college kids to play 10 straight weeks of football anyway? LSU played 10 straight weeks in the 2005 season without a week off before any of those games because of rescheduling by two hurricanes. And it even played at Mississippi State in a day game on a Saturday after playing the previous Monday night against Tennessee.

And the Tigers got enough rest to win nine straight over that stretch and take the SEC West during an 11-2 season. 

The NFL used to play 16 straight without an open date until the 1990s.

Sure, it makes sense to have open dates at mid-season. But that's in normal seasons. This is not a normal season.

Plus, the non-COVID open dates presented a problem this season in college and in pro. If a team is basically COVID free and has an open and free weekend, chances are the players are going to party or gather socially more than they would have if they had a game that week. 

When the widespread cancellation of football was in the air over the summer, several coaches, including Alabama's Nick Saban, said that the best place for their players to avoid COVID was in their facility practicing, working out and viewing film - not at home.

Head down is a good way to avoid COVID. Being open and out on a weekend when you could be preparing for or playing a game is not.

In other words, non-COVID open dates may cause COVID open dates.