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IMHO Sunday: Foreshadowing the inevitable…again?

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

Reality check: Within days of sending out a slightly positive coronavirus protocol for both the general student population and the University of Southern California campus community, Wednesday night became an update that many had feared might come to fruition in a very fluid situation. An ominous statement was circulated through an email from USC Provost Charles Zukoski and Senior Vice President David Wright, regarding first semester classes recommendations and the general state of the USC campus area.

This second email had more than a few students, faculty, and staff wondering where it could all be leading. Maybe we already know. The most recent email update let it be known that Los Angeles County has yet “to approve our (USC) plans for returning to full campus operations.” Bottom line: The USC campus (cover photo above) may open in August, but it figures to be very quiet and give the appearance that it is somewhat deserted.

Reality check – Part 2: It also puts into play again the uncomfortable prospect of a USC football season – which technically begins in exactly two months (Sept. 5) against Alabama – on the brink of a potential delay, rescheduling, or cancellation. We aren’t there yet, but it’s certainly even more conceivable now than ever. Chicken little? Maybe. Maybe not.

The coronavirus is running rampant in California and throughout much of the country the last two weeks with no end in sight, and desperate times call for desperate measures. No question, all options are on the table, but options are dwindling. In the recent email, the general student body has been told that a “revised class schedule will be available by July 8.”

Reality check Part 3: While USC will be releasing a fall classes update this week, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott revealed to the San Jose Mercury last week there are four 2020 conference football scenarios in play. They are as follows: (1) play all 12-games as scheduled (2) A delayed start (3) a Pac-12 Conference-only schedule (4) Moving the season to the spring. It all depends how each university in the conference elects to handle the fall semester.   

Addressing the coronavirus situation, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) has publicly announced that there are four possible schedule scenarios.

Reality check – Part 4:
Part of the email sent out by USC Provost Charles Zukoski and Senior Vice President David Wright said,“Given the continuing safety restrictions and limited densities permissible on campus, our undergraduate students primarily or exclusively will be taking their courses online in the fall term, and on-campus housing and activities will be limited. 

“While not what we hoped, we are now recommending all undergraduates take their courses online, and reconsider living on or close to campus this semester. We are continuing with limited in-person, on-campus activity because we believe we can keep students, researchers, staff, and faculty safe with our low-density plan.”

USC Provost Charles Zukoski (photo above by Douglas Levere) and Senior Vice-President David Wright released an email this past week that presented an update on the upcoming fall semester, and it wasn’t what students, faculty, and staff wanted to hear.

Reality check – Part 5: Zukoski and Wright added, “We are continuing with limited in-person, on-campus activity because we believe we can keep students, researchers, staff, and faculty safe with our low-density plan.”

Reality check – Part 6: Zukoski and Wright continued by trying to find a silver lining in a difficult situation. They wrote, “Whether students are here on campus or pursuing their studies and activities online, we want everyone to feel safe and supported. We are in this together and together we will make this fall a rich and rewarding experience.”

Reality check – Part 7: While you can try and minimize the Zukoski and Wright message as nothing more than just a “recommendation,” it would be foolish not to read between the lines. They are basically saying in a polite way, “Here’s what you’d better do.” It wouldn’t be shocking in a future email if that “recommendation” became an executive order. There aren’t many options left.  

USC Senior Vice-President David Wright (photo above by Gus Ruelas) co-authored with Provost Charles Zukoski a difficult campus decision to tighten restrictions on academic instruction and housing.

Reality check – Part 8: While the Zukoski and Wright email was definitely not what students, faculty, and staff wanted to hear, this is the corner we find ourselves confined to as the coronavirus plays its devastating physical and emotional mind games.

You really have to wonder in the coming weeks if college football isn’t put on hold either collectively or individually. Some conferences and universities of lesser notoriety than the storied USC Trojans have already scrapped the entire 2020 season. The only thing keeping the college football season alive is the financial elephant in the room – money, money, money. It’s the driving force for optimism, which it shouldn’t be. Student-athlete welfare should be the driving force.  

Reality check – Part 9:
Now that we’re in July – at some point – something is going to give as it pertains to the football schedule. We’re not crying chicken little here, but let’s face it folks, the call on athletics in the fall is waiting to the last possible moment to make a decision, and I expect that all or most hearts will sink if the season is either delayed or scrapped completely. If the coronavirus was a game of chess, how close are we to checkmate? Even for the most optimistic, reality seems just around the corner.

Reality check – Part 10:
Sure, the USC football program is doing its best to have a 2020 season, but the unpredictability of the situation is sobering. Give USC credit for trying its best to keep hope alive as it pertains to some sort of campus activities, but also give administration credit for understanding the depth of the problem and addressing it the best they can.

With the accelerated coronavirus continuing to spread on a daily basis, is the Trojans 2020 season in bigger jeopardy?

Reality check – Part 11: Maybe the recent recommendation of online classes and minimal campus activity is being overblown, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s the next step with the clock ticking to move to even tighter campus restrictions, and the reality that the 2020 USC football season is in real jeopardy. Don’t kill the messenger, but you have to be able to see the potential writing on the wall.

An optimistic note:
USC football is proceeding as if there is going to be a season, and that is the proper thing to do. It ain’t over till it’s over, but nobody should be under the illusion that if things don’t begin to quickly flatten the virus curve, the last thing should be a collective display of surprise if the season is kaput or altered dramatically.  

From the press box…

Parenting 101: In a recent Los Angeles Times article regarding parent concerns for their athletic offspring, the mother of two Trojans football players expressed her concern but remained optimistic regarding the coronavirus.

In The Times article by Thuc Nhi Nguyen regarding the McClain household, the scribe wrote, “Having housing available on campus is critical, Shan McClain said. The mother of USC football players Munir and Abdul-Malik McClain said her sons won’t return until they can stay at school, where the possibility for infection is limited in a controlled environment as opposed to commuting from their home in Ladera Ranch to campus every day.”

Like many parents, Shan McClain wants to feel confident that her sons, LB Abdul-Malik McClain (photo above) and his brother, WR Munir McClain, will be protected on campus and within the team as it pertains to the coronavirus.

Parenting 101 – Part 2: “The bubble tactic, if executed properly, is a ‘win-win,’ Shan believes, because it keeps athletes safe, thus allowing them to compete better.”

Parenting 101 – Part 3: Shan McClain added,“If they want to win a national championship, they’re going to do their very best to keep every one of those players including the staff safe and secure.”

Parenting 101 – Part 4: At the end of The Times article regarding parental concerns of athletes returning to campus, Shan McClain said, “As a parent, and I’ll be that forever, I always think safety’s first, and I’m not throwing my kids into the hellfire just to appease someone.”

A man named Smith:  Defensive back Jaylin Smith, a 5-feet-11, 180-pounder from Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, committed to the Trojans last Tuesday. Jaylin also had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. If that doesn’t impress you, it should. It certainly looks like USC DB coach Donte Williams has struck again. However, it’s still expected that Jaylin will still take official visits to his schools of interest. As always, it’s never over until the fax machine says it is.  

The Trojans continued their impressive recruiting run for the Class of 2021 when Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany DB Jaylin Smith (photo above) made a commitment this past week.

Renovations department: The Trojans are scheduled to play a Friday night game at Utah on Oct. 2. Construction crews in Salt Lake City continue to make rapid progress re-shaping the south end of Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus. The bigger question: Will anybody be allowed to watch the game in person?

It’s Miller time: The Elite 11, a three-day quarterback extravaganza that featured 20 of the nation’s premier underclass signal callers, was completed this past week in Nashville, and one of those QBs that stood out was Trojans’ verbal Miller Moss (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei). Miller’s calling card was his uncanny ability of accuracy.   

The post-game show…

The revolt: As you may have already read or heard, there’s rebellion in the air, as USC formally and unilaterally dissolved all region-based domestic alumni clubs and chapters, which represents thousands of USC alumni around the nation. According to sources, this action was not done without any significant transparency and without agreement with those alumni associations affected.

The revolt- Part 2: In response to the university’s action on alumni clubs, a petition opposing these changes received over 2,500 alumni signatures in protest. Leaders of the various alumni clubs effected have announced plans to appeal their case in a letter directly to USC President Dr. Carol Folt.

USC President Carol Folt (photo above) will need to address the consternation of the USC alumni clubs across the country after the University made a unilateral decision to eliminate the clubs, which sparked a massive petition to reconsider the decision.

The revolt – Part 3: Founded more than a century ago, the Trojans alumni clubs have been the University connection-point for thousands of alumni living around the country and have provided a variety of social, philanthropic, and professional development.

The Toll: How much will future Trojans recruiting be affected if there is no high school football season in 2020?

Prep time:
The California Interscholastic Federation has announced that a decision will be made by July 20 whether fall sports will begin as scheduled.

Heavily recruited Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above), who is currently committed to LSU, may be without a football season if high school football is delayed or cancelled due to the coronavirus. Davis is among other great prep players across the country who are uncertain about their 2020 senior season.

Prep time – Part 2: The CIF says it will be prepared to offer “alternative calendars” if needed. All of which means that high school football in California could have a late fall or even winter start. In a recent memo, the CIF Southern Section, the largest athletic grouping of schools in California, expressed hope that fall sports will commence as usual.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Greg, the Trojans are still really going strong in recruiting for the Class of 2021. What do you think could be a fly in the recruiting ointment? Well, Caller No. 1, I think there are two things that strike me as threats to the class. First, it’s how the Trojans do this season – if there is a season – and how it ends. Secondly, because of the coronavirus, few out-of-state recruits have taken visits to other schools. Visiting other schools can be a major factor in decision-making. However, if the Trojans take care of business on the field, it may not matter if committed players take visits elsewhere. I still believe that if the Trojans have no season, it actually could lead to a better chance of keeping this current 2021 class remaining intact.   

Trojans head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) has had to adjust to recruiting with the coronavirus, but knows that if there is a season, he has to win to keep recruiting momentum going. The coach has also had to deal with ongoing recruits unable to come to campus because of the virus.

Caller No. 2: GK, if you were a parent of a Trojans football player, would you have been concerned about the health and safety of your son going back to school? I certainly would because I think the way things are at this moment in time, the coronavirus appears to be out of control. My child’s safety would mean more to me than a football game, and I would hate to think that money is the driving force to play this season, which it is.

In the end, however, I would let my son play, knowing that everything to protect him is being done. If my son felt uncomfortable about it and didn’t want to play, I would strongly support that decision, too.   

Caller No. 3: Gregorio, who is the hardest hitting USC defender you have seen in watching as many games as you have seen? No question, it would be Hall of Fame DB Ronnie Lott. The ironic thing about Ronnie, who I’ve known since his days as a prep basketball player, is that he was a killer on the field but off the field a true gentleman and humanitarian.

Nobody in the history of USC defensive football hit any harder than former All-American DB Ronnie Lott (photo above).

Caller No. 4: Mr. K, if you had USC season tickets, would you choose to advance your season tickets to the 2021 season, or would you attend this season’s games? I would defer to the 2021 season. There are too many restrictions and unknowns to enjoy the 2020 experience, and I’d rather enjoy a season rather than try and survive it.   

Caller No. 5: Greggo, under normal circumstances, what do you do for July 4th? Ah, the good old days. I don’t live far from the beach cities here in Orange County, and I have gone there with my honey and spent time with friends. In the last couple of years, I’ve stayed in my local community and enjoyed the “associations” fireworks show “by the lake.” Last night, my July 4th celebration was staying at home and watching celebrations on television. I can survive missing one July 4th gathering.

The Fourth of July just wasn’t the same this weekend due to the coronavirus, and many traditional plans were altered.

The final word: Our thoughts go out to the family members of former All-American guard/linebacker Damon Bame, a key player on the 1962 USC National Champions, who recently passed.

The Trojans family is mourning the loss of All-American guard/linebacker Damon Bame (photo above).

After his playing days at Troy, the pride of Glendale High, Damon became a Division 1 football coach and later was the head coach at El Segundo (Calif.) High. No. 64 will be missed.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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