Double the fun

Hits and tackles were intense last fall when Georgetown College and University of Pikeville met in football for the first time since 2016. Familiarity could breed contempt this year: The Tigers and Bears would see one another twice in a modified, regionalized schedule. 

Assuming there is a football season for Georgetown College this fall, it will look dramatically different than anything Tiger fans have seen in the modern era.

As a consequence of COVID-19, the season has been whittled to nine games from the traditional 10 or 11.

Gone is a scheduled trip to Florida along with any other non-divisional games in the Mid-South Conference.

In fact, in order to fill out the slate, the Tigers will play a pair of Bluegrass Division rivals from opposite outposts in the state — Thomas More and Pikeville — twice.  

And spectators in the stands? Well, that remains the burning question for coaches and administrators at every school in the nation who are balancing their desires to build both revenues and a competitive atmosphere with obvious safety concerns.

It’s all part of the continued effort at every level of sports in the United States to restore the games we play, watch and love while trying to keep the pandemic in check.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to go through this again,” GC coach Bill Cronin said recently in an interview with Lexington ABC affilaite WTVQ. “It is challenging for everybody, and I can’t believe some of the decisions that have to be made, and they have to be made how we’re going to go forward and progress.”

Cronin, recently inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, is entering his 23rd season at the helm.

Last year’s 5-5 record included win No. 200 in Cronin’s illustrious career.

The NAIA, which joined in the NCAA in suspending its winter championships and the bulk of its spring sports season in March, rolled out return-to-play guidelines for all sports on June 4.

One week later, Mid-South Conference commissioner Eric Ward presented the pared-down grid schedule.

Players will be allowed on campus and permitted to practice in full pads starting Aug. 15, four weeks before the delayed kickoff to the season.

“With the lingering uncertainty regarding many of the details surrounding a return to play in the fall, our conference leadership ...  felt it would be prudent to move forward with a contingency plan for football, the sport with the largest student-athlete participation and the most procedural complexities from the start of preseason practice thru completion of the regular season schedule,” Ward said in a press release. “Our schools will face a number of challenges this fall, and the revised football schedule will make some of those challenges easier for our members to address.”

Georgetown’s overhauled slate will start with a non-traditional run of three home games against Thomas More, Pikeville and Lindsey Wilson.

The Tigers won’t have to leave the friendly confines of Toyota Stadium until they travel to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, on Oct. 3.

That 213-mile bus trip will be the Tigers’ only scheduled out-of-state journey.

They’ll also go to Cumberlands (114 miles) before wrapping up the home docket with back-to-back games against Campbellsville and Bethel.

Games eight and nine will be return engagements on the road with Thomas More and Pikeville.

A nine-game regular season isn’t unheard of. GC also went down to a single-digit number in 2017 after its game with Southeastern University was canceled due to travel complications in the aftermath of a hurricane.

Georgetown earned a playoff berth and had two additional games that year.

“I want to especially thank our athletic directors and head football coaches for their leadership and spirit of cooperation through this process,” Ward said. “We found that our athletic directors and coaches were all eager and willing to work together to find a solution to the challenges that we all will face in getting our teams back on the field and keeping them on the field this fall.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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