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IMHO Sunday: To the point – To play or not to play, isn’t that a rhetorical question?

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

To the point: I want the coronavirus to go away – like forever. You want the coronavirus to go away – like forever. College football’s coaches and players want the coronavirus to go away – like forever. But it isn’t and not for a very long time or at least until a vaccine or a breathtaking intervention arrives. Whenever I get into a discussion with fellow Trojan football fans, they debate if it’s too early to make a call on whether the 2020 college football season should be played. Heck, even my media colleagues are divided on this emotional issue of our sporting times. Well, I don’t see it as a debate. I see it as a no-brainer. When it comes to college football – USC football specifically – does economics, wants, needs, and desires, and emotion supersede health, good decision-making, and mortality? I hope not.

To the point – Part 2: Not trying to sound like an alarmist or germaphobe, but if there is a second wave of coronavirus coming in the fall as predicted by the medical community, it would be in the heart of the college football season, so it seems to me that would answer all the questions about playing – with or without fans in attendance. Folks, it ain’t worth it, and it’s downright dangerous. It would also drive everybody whacko trying to adhere to all the precautionary measures. Could we all live without a college football season? We could if we thought it would endanger our well-being and everybody around us and those associated with the football program.

To the point – Part 3: In early March, my girlfriend and I drove (normally we fly but cancelled because of the virus) to our annual Dodgers spring training games in the Phoenix area. The four games we attended and the places we ate became less enjoyable and more tense each day as new coronavirus revelations came to light. Needless to say, anybody near us at the games who started coughing or sneezing rattled our nerves and challenged our commonsense. Even when fellow spectators at the outdoor games asked if we could take selfies of them, it brought out the hand sanitizer immediately. Is that anyway to enjoy a game? If we knew then what we now know today, we would have cancelled going to spring training.

Sharon and I (photo above) found out first hand how the coronavirus can affect a sporting event, even a four-game spring training excursion from LA to Phoenix, especially when sitting in and around people that are coughing and sneezing. It certainly gets one’s attention and makes you wonder if it’s all worth risking your health.

As it were, three weeks later we were scheduled to fly to Disney World, another of our annual spring treks, and spend nine days in Florida and even hit our favorite beach area – Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico. However, we cancelled that trip not long before Disney World officially announced its closures. And for the spring and summer, I also have half-season tickets for my beloved Dodgers, but that ain’t happening either because of the virus. Are we disappointed? Absolutely, but it is what it is, and who wants a chance to catch the virus, suffer immeasurably, with the nightmare thought of being on a ventilator? Not me. Call it the rational fear factor. We have now all learned the terms essential and non-essential. Spring training, Disney World, and Dodgers games fall into the non-essential category.  

We cancelled our annual spring trip to Disney World (photo above) due to the coronavirus. It was a week later that Disney World announced its theme parks. Recently, it was reported that both Disney World and Disneyland probably would not open until 2021. Can we expect college football to have the same fate as theme parks?

To the point – Part 4: So, could all of us survive not having a USC college football season for 2020? Absolutely. How could you enjoy it with the enormous shadow of the coronavirus lurking about in a crowded Coliseum environment? For the good of everybody – players, coaches, fans – how could you rationalize without apprehension that everything would be fine for Coli home games in Exposition Park – not to mention road games? Do those pleasures outweigh the risks? Are we overreacting here? I think not. If you disagree, you are more than welcome to be first in line at the first home game in the Coli in early September, although we all know the chances of games – home or away – in September are in all probability slim and none. 

To the point – Part 5: Players want to play, coaches want to coach, and fans want their sports, I get that. Well, I’d love for all three segments to get their wish. For me, I want to be in that Coliseum press box. I want to travel once again to Trojans road games. I want to sit with my cramped media buddies and first excite myself with what kind of pregame press box media meal will be served and will pizza or cookies be served late into the night when we’re all filing a game story long after midnight of yet another ridiculous 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Heck, I might even yearn for “normal” post-game press conferences with Clay Helton as he lovingly wraps his arms around his two “adopted sons” and praises his team’s effort during the good times and the bad times. I want normal, and I want USC football like the past 57 years. Unfortunately, like everything else in this society, the abnormal has become the normal, which includes the coronavirus. Would we all be trying to survive the game as opposed to enjoying it? And might that not be the same for all the participants on the field? If I were the coronavirus at the Coli, I would be salivating at the prospects of an “all-you-can-infect” college football buffet. I suspect the good news is that government and USC officials won’t allow that to happen. Sorry virus.     

If there are no games in 2020, we will miss Clay Helton’s (photo above) post-game press conferences – win or lose.

To the point – Part 6: There are clues to which direction a decision regarding this college football season – specifically the USC season – as it pertains to a full or restructured schedule calendar. Pay no attention to wishful thoughts of playing by coaches being paid millions of dollars to coach. Pay no attention to the players who will say they want to play and aren’t afraid of the virus, you can’t blame either of them for that. And pay little attention to some media members who say it’s too early to make a call. On second thought, those media members – like many of you – know already what the unofficial decision is expected to be but won’t say it until there is a public announcement.

I am sure that every possible scenario is being thought over by all the officials concerned. However, we all know what direction this is all headed. It may not affect all universities, but all it will take is one major, celebrated university to say no football in 2020, and the dominoes effect will commence just like we saw in the earlier “postponement” of professional sports. This USC decision to play football in 2020 shouldn’t be a decision based on economics. Of course, the decision-makers in all of college football are going to wait until the very last minute to make an official announcement, which I don’t think is all that hard and is actually staring college presidents and athletic director in the face. 

Due to the coronavirus, Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) faces a tough decision whether to play football or not in 2020.

To the point – Part 7: In fact, with recent developments and comments from various college presidents, I just don’t think we’re going to see a full Pac-12 schedule of teams, regardless of the economic hardships. The well-being of the student-athletes is the priority or should be. It has been reported that Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott wants to see how the NFL handles the coronavirus and execution of games. Hey, Larry, how about seeing how each state’s governor rules on the matter. It’s almost a slam dunk there will be no fans allowed in the stands of a college football game in the Los Angeles or San Francisco areas if there is football. Then again, if one team, coach, trainer or staff member gets the virus during training camp or during the season, would cancellation be far behind? Is that worth the startup only to shut it all down later?

To the point – Part 8: We all know that both Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and Cali Governor Gavin Newsom are already on record saying that playing sporting events in Los Angeles and California, respectively, are very slim at best. On Wednesday, the nation’s most respected authority, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said it didn’t look good for sports until next year. In other words, don’t look for the Coliseum to be open, don’t look for the Rose Bowl to be open, don’t look for Stanford Stadium to be open, and don’t expect Cal’s Memorial Stadium to be open. Now there’s a clue that doesn’t need interpretation.

Los Angeles major Eric Garcetti (photo above) is on record as saying he does not believe that sports in LA arenas and stadiums will be played anytime soon because of the coronavirus.

To the point – Part 9: In an interview from the Southern California News Group, Trojans head coach Clay Helton addressed the possibility of a fall football timeline. Gentleman Clay said, “I think we’re going to get a lot clearer picture of the whole thing probably in 6-8 weeks is what I’m being told. I think everybody is optimistic that we will have a season, we just don’t know the timing of that season or the structure of it.”

To the point – Part 10: Helton added, “But the one thing I’m appreciative of is the NCAA and colleges are trying to level the playing field, knowing that there are different situations based on the states that you’re in. For us, when is it safe to get back as 110 men? That’s No. 1. Phase 2 is going to be getting our kids in functional football shape and be able to safely go into a training camp. Phase 3 will be that actual training camp and Phase 4 will be actual play.”

Trojans’ head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) says there are four phases to actually playing games in 2020.

To the point – Part 11: If you think that USC President Folt is going to give a thumbs up to playing football, you’ve forgotten she is a biology major and probably knows her germs and viruses. She probably has as great an appreciation for data, science, and medical experts as anybody. You don’t have to be Dr. Fauci or Dr. Deborah Birx to figure that out.

You can bet that USC president Carol Folt will be listening closely to what national known Dr. Anthony Fauci (photo above) says when it comes to the status of the coronavirus.

To the point – Part 12: Perhaps a bigger revelation about USC’s future in the fall was addressed by Dr. Folt in her recent State of the University address. Folt said, “Many of you are asking about the fall. To begin, we will be fully operational, running all of our courses and degrees, as we are this summer, and welcoming incoming classes. Even if, as we hope, we are able to be back in person, most if not all classes will be available, in parallel, online.

“Our teams are actively exploring options, including delaying the start of on-campus classes by several weeks, retrofitting facilities for social distancing, and pursuing hybrid models that include online and in-person activities in all classes.We’re also well along in preparing the campus to bring research back very soon. But the truth is, we still cannot know for certain about the in-person aspects of the fall. We plan to decide about that in the next two months. We appreciate your patience and will keep you closely informed.”

USC President Carol Folt (photo above) recently gave the State of the University address, and she outlined the future of the university as it navigates the coronavirus and how it may change the school calendar and classroom education.

From the press box…

Another perspective: Further evidence that the Pac-12 college football season is in serious jeopardy was provided in a piece written by WeAreSC publisher Erik McKinney, who cited a recent KVOI-AM Tucson radio interview with University of Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins. Robbins said, “I’m really concerned about whether we’re going to be playing football in the fall…My sense, right now, I just don’t see that happening.” Maybe Robbins has left open the option of playing in the winter or spring.

Leave it to the SEC: Southeast Conference commissioner Greg Sankey was open to the idea that not everybody in his conference has to play in 2020. During a Jacksonville radio interview, Sankey said, “If there’s a couple of programs that aren’t able, does that stop everyone? I’m not sure it does. But the ability for us to stay connected will remain important.” Would the Pac-12 go with universities that are open if it doesn’t include the big television markets of Los Angeles and San Francisco? From an economics view, they might.  

Southeast Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey (photo above) says his conference believes that given the coronavirus situation in his conference’s various states, he would be okay if some of his SEC universities did not participate in football but others do.

More recruiting appreciation: In his interview with the Southern California New Group, Clay Helton again gave praise to USC President Folk and athletic director Mike Bohn for his program’s recent recruiting surge. Helton said, “I’m really appreciative of Mike Bohn and Dr. [Carol L.] Folt for the resources and tools that they gave us. One, when you look staff-wise, to be able to keep a Graham Harrell and keep that consistency, but also to acquire a Todd Orlando, Craig Naivar, Donte Williams, Vic So’oto, there’s a financial investment that needs to be made there, as well as building an even stronger recruiting staff. Technology has become a huge part of recruiting. Being able to add an extra graphics guy, a video production person, a brand marketing person and an additional recruiter, building that has helped us also. That type of investment people feel.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton is thankful to Dr Folt and AD Bohn for opening up the banking account to secure the services of new coaches like defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above).

The good father: No doubt, one of the positives in the eyes of Dr. Folt regarding Clay Helton is his devotion to his players. Asked in the SCNG story about what he’s doing to keep himself occupied at home, Helton replied, “I’m trying to take care of my 110 adopted sons right now,” a reference to his players.

Another Lone Star commit: WR Quadydarius “Quay” Davis (6-0, 193/ Dallas. Texas/ Skyline) has made a verbal commitment to the Trojans. Credit goes to Trojans wide receiver coach Keary Colbert and the other native Texas coaches now on the USC staff. Given the Trojans staff has so many coaches from the Lone Star State, one would think it’s especially satisfying to beat out the locals for Quay’s services. Not to put a damper on the recruiting success of Davis, but Quay had been previously committed to SMU and Texas.

Trojans coaches are celebrating the verbal commitment of Dallas wide receiver Quay Davis (photo above).

The post-game show…

The game: Don’t know if you got the chance to watch the replay of the legendary 2005 USC at Notre Dame game on NBCSN last week, but it was a reminder of what an incredible game it was. Having been there in person, as great as the replay was, being there was indescribable. It had been awhile since I’ve watched a replay of the game, but it reminded me of a number of factors and memories in the No. 1 Trojans heart-pounding, 34-31, victory over the No. 9 Irish.

NBCSN recently rebroadcasted the legendary 2005 USC/Notre Dame game played in Notre Dame Stadium, which will always be remembered for Trojans’ quarterback Matt Leinart (photo above) crossing the goal line for the Trojan victory.

The game – Part 2: The game was played in partially renovated Notre Dame Stadium. The stadium renovation has now been completed, and ND did a great job of expanding their stadium from the outside without losing the very essence of the history and look of the storied inside of Notre Dame Stadium. The same can’t be said of the Coliseum renovation, although the finished Coli product did end up being better than I originally thought. Unfortunately for a majority of USC fans, they’ll never get to experience the inside of the Scholarship Tower, which is lavish, opulent, and really highlights USC football in all phases and aspects.

Notre Dame did a wonderful job of renovating historic Notre Dame Stadium (photo above) without losing its ambiance.

The game – Part 3: Knowing what we all know now, I found it very uncomfortable listening to former Trojans’ quarterback and former athletic director Pat Haden doing the analytical work on the replay telecast.

It was difficult listening to former Trojans athletic director Pat Haden (photo above) on NBCSN’s replay of the 2005 USC at Notre Dame game. Haden was the analyst for the game.

The game – Part 4: Looking again at the length of the grass on the Notre Dame Stadium field that day remains a disgrace. The Irish let the grass grow to slow down the speed of the Trojans, and watching the game on replay again emphasized what a team will do to get a home advantage. 

The grass at Notre Dame Stadium was kept extremely long in order to slow down the likes of Trojans All-America tailback Reggie Bush (photo above – LA TImes). The long grass didn’t affect Bush from having a monster game against the Irish.

The game – Part 5: People ask me if the 2005 game was the greatest USC game I’ve ever seen. Well, that takes in a lot of games and a lot of memorable moments, but I will say this, it’s the best regular season road game I’ve ever seen and certainly in the conversation as the best USC game in my experience.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: GK, are you concerned about the mix messages from football coaches and their college presidents regarding the 2020 season? No, not at all. I pay little attention to what college coaches say. They are not government officials, college presidents, or health professionals. Of course, college coaches want to play; that’s what they are getting paid to do, that’s what they love to do. Nothing wrong with that.  

If you want to find a credible source in how the coronavirus is playing out nationally, just listen to national health professional Deborah Birx (photo above).

Caller No. 2: Katz, if there is no college football season, how will that affect recruiting? I have addressed this before, and I am on record as saying things will be different, but as far as the Class of 2021, it probably won’t take a major hit and if it does, it will probably be with out-of-state players. However, based on the current 2021 class already assembled, it already looks very promising, and it already includes a couple of Texas players.

Caller No. 3: Coach, if there is no college football season, how will that affect Trojans who want to be part of the 2021 NFL draft? Now there is a very timely question. I just talked to a real NFL insider who told me that if there is no 2020 NFL season, it could really affect the pro game in terms of rosters. If there is no season and no major way of evaluating the recently drafted players, there will be extreme pressure on those vets already on an NFL roster should they be forced to compete with two draft classes (2020 and 2021) to save their spot on a roster. Of course, it may not come to that, but as I was told that economics play a huge role in creating NFL rosters. It would be survival of the fittest and how much each team wants to pay its current roster players compared to what it might saved in dollars by signing cheaper draft picks. In other words, cheap labor wins out.   

Caller No. 4: Grego, are you concerned by the lack of Trojans selected in the recently completed NFL draft? No, not when you see what Trojans were available for the draft. If some of the Trojans’ current underclassmen had elected to forego another season in cardinal and gold (ex. Jay Tufele, Tyler Vaughns, Alijah Vera-Tucker) and entered the recent draft, those numbers would have been different, and the Trojans would have probably had five or more players selected somewhere in the seven rounds. Tufele and Vera-Tucker might have had shots at being first-round guys.

If Trojans defensive tackle Jay Tufele (photo above) had entered his name into the 2020 NFL draft, some believe that he might have been selected in the first round.

Caller No. 5: Mr. Kitty, in a perverse way, has there been any positives from the coronavirus stay-at-home order in your situation? Actually, there has been one positive that has caught my attention. Since I am basically staying at home, I think my credit card bill is the lowest it has been since I was back in college. I am also actually having trouble trying to remember the last time I went out to eat (LOL).    

The final word: Good readers, please stay safe, use good judgment, and don’t let your emotions and frustrations overrule your logic as it pertains to the coronavirus.  

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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