The Citadel’s All-American linebacker had a succinct reaction to the day’s news, but it spoke volumes.
“Hurt,” Bulldogs standout Willie Eubanks III posted on Twitter.
The Bulldogs’ hopes of playing for a Southern Conference championship this fall were dashed Thursday when the Southern Conference decided to postpone fall sports, including football, to the spring of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The SoCon left open the possibility that its nine football-playing members could play non-conference games this fall if they chose to. But it was not clear Thursday that The Citadel would pursue that path.
“We are examining that now,” Citadel athletic director Mike Capaccio said Thursday. “And we will let you know when we make a decision.”
Crazy man… https://t.co/Z347Uftlbp
— Brandon Rainey (@BRainey_7) August 13, 2020
With the loss of eight SoCon football games, the Bulldogs have two games left on the 2020 schedule — Charleston Southern and a game at Clemson worth $450,000 to The Citadel. A third non-conference game against Elon already had been lost.
The SoCon said it intends to move fall sports championships to the spring, but it’s not certain what the Bulldogs’ roster will look like by then. Quarterback Brandon Rainey and standout receiver Raleigh Webb are fifth-year players; graduate-student transfer Alex Ramsey, an All-America running back from VMI, had already opted out of the fall season due to COVID-19 concerns, and offensive lineman Summie Carlay is another grad transfer from South Carolina.
“Heartbroken for guys like” Thomas Crawford, Brandon Rainey and Raleigh Webb, Carlay posted on Twitter.
Thirty-four Citadel players did not report on the first day of practice last Friday, though 11 of them joined practice since then.
Last week, Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson talked about the possibility of not being able to play for a SoCon championship or FCS playoff berth this fall.
“We’ve had tremendous senior leaders and a lot of fifth-year and fourth-year players coming back who are impactful players,” said Thompson, whose 2016 team won the SoCon title. “I felt like we had all the pieces in place to where our guys who played in 2017, 2018 and 2019 were getting ourselves back to where we were in 2014-16.
“It hurts us, and I’ve told the guys on the team, I will have other seasons and we will have other seasons. But those fourth and fifth-year players might not, and I will hurt for them if it does get canceled on us.”
The SoCon, which also includes state schools Furman and Wofford, became the 12th of 13 FCS leagues to call off its fall season due to the pandemic; the lone holdout, the Ohio Valley Conference, is reportedly on the brink of pulling the plug, as well.
The Big South Conference shut down its football season on Wednesday, though Big South member Charleston Southern is planning to play its allowed four non-conference games. The Bucs had games with SoCon teams Mercer and Furman on their slate.
“This decision was made with extensive evaluation and conversation,” Southern Conference commissioner Jim Schaus said. “Ultimately, we felt it necessary to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and staff. This decision was also supported by the conference’s medical advisory committee. I am greatly saddened to not be able to conduct our fall conference competition.
“We know what this means to our student-athletes, coaches, staff and loyal fans, but safety must come first. We are still hopeful that we can have these sports successfully compete in the spring. We will continue to daily monitor the COVID-19 situation in order to make prudent and necessary decisions regarding athletic practice and competition in the future.”
In a statement, Capaccio said The Citadel supported the league’s decision.
“The Citadel supports the decision made by the Southern Conference Council of Presidents to postpone fall conference competitions, allowing for non-conference contests if desired,” Capaccio said in a statement. “Our cadet-athletes and coaches are disappointed that COVID-19 has disrupted conference play.
“As a rule, we do not cancel or curtail important elements of the cadet experience unless and until we must. Our primary consideration as we assess the possibility of non-conference contests will remain the well-being of our cadet athletes and our entire campus community. “
A SoCon official said various scheduling issues are unresolved, including whether SoCon members can play each other in a non-conference game in the fall. Also being considered: Can a SoCon team play games in the fall and still play for the league championship in the spring?”
“Scheduling details are still being discussed, and there are also various questions related to FCS overall scheduling that the NCAA should be giving us guidance on in the near future,” the league official said.
Among SoCon schools, indications are that Wofford, VMI, ETSU and Western Carolina do no plan to pursue fall football games. Earlier this week, ETSU’s president said it was “virtually impossible” to play fall sports.
Chattanooga, Furman, Samford and Mercer are all examining their options, officials said.
“We will thoroughly evaluate all of our options moving forward,” said Furman AD Jason Donnelly.
Wofford does not intend to play football in the fall, a school official said. Western Carolina “has postponed all athletic competition of its 2020 fall sports,” its statement said. A statement from VMI said, “We will focus our efforts to an efficient and orderly transition to spring 2021 competition.”
“This decision was a difficult one to make,” said Wofford College athletic director Richard Johnson. “The primary focus of the decision was the health and well-being of our student-athletes. While it will be a different fall without sports on campus, our coaches and staff will remain focused on providing the best experience possible for our student-athletes.”
The fall sports impacted by SoCon’s decision are football, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball. Practice and competition for some sports that have their championships in the winter/spring but traditionally have fall practice and competitions (men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s lacrosse, baseball, softball and rifle) will be determined by each institution, the league said.