Winners & Losers: ‘HBC Swamp Stomp’ edition

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As is the case every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

U-S-A!!!  U-S-A!!!
As we are just a couple of days removed from honoring the men and women who have bravely served this great country as part of the armed forces, there’s nothing more appropriate to lead off this week’s winners & losers than with this little tidbit.  For the first time ever, and barring an unexpected turn of events, all three United States service academies will play in a bowl game in the same season.  Air Force and Navy were already bowl eligible entering Saturday’s action, but Army’s win over Kent State got the Black Knights to six wins and makes those all three of those American institutions eligible for postseason play.  You will always have our undying gratitude for what you do off the field, but here’s a hearty pat on the back from CFT for this season’s on-field success across the board.

“Return of the Swamp Thing”, starring the HBC
If it weren’t for honoring our veterans, there’s little doubt that the Head Ball Coach would lead this sucker off.  How delicious of a story dripping in rich irony is it that Steve Spurrier, whose very collegiate playing and coaching legend was created in Gainesville, would return to The Swamp that he once owned like no other to claim South Carolina’s first-ever SEC East title at the expense of his once-beloved Florida Gators?  Yeah, push that script in Hollywood and see how many rejections you get.  Much credit to Marcus Lattimore and his 200-plus yards on the ground; much credit to a stifling Gamecocks defense that held the Gators to just 226 yards of total offense — Lattimore had 243 himself — including 35 yards on the ground and a microscopic 1.8 yards per carry; much credit to the entire football program for both their performance Saturday and their inaugural spot in the SEC title game.  However, given the circumstances of the homecoming, this is as much about the HBC right now as it is anything else.  Certainly, he’ll shove aside what it meant to him personally and push the attention and adulation onto his more-than-deserving players.  We won’t, though.  Not yet.  Spurrier is one of the many great things about college football, and deserves a little solo bask in what was accomplished today.  He won’t, though.  And that’s part of what makes him the HBC and one of our favorite personalities in any sport ever.

Camazing!
(Too much?  Yeah, I thought so too.)  Forget about all of the off-field stuff.  Put it out of your mind for just a second.  When it comes to on-field exploits, there’s not a better college football player in the country this year than Cam Newton.  The thing is, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s not even that close.  Not only did Newton toss the Tigers on his back — 299 yards of offense, four touchdowns — in keeping their 2010 record spotless, but he became the first player in SEC history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season.  And to do all he did for 60 minutes on Saturday after what’s been swirling around for the past nine days?  I don’t know if he will or if he even should win the Heisman, but I am certain that there’s no better player in the nation.  And, again, it’s not even close.

Cowboys the master of their divisional domain
In the wild and wooly 2010 edition of the Big 12 South, there’s one school and one school only that is in complete control of their divisional destiny — Oklahoma State.  That was the way it was coming into the weekend, and that’s the way it is exiting it after the Cowboys slapped Texas around their own house, the first time in 12 years OSU has come out on the winning side against the Longhorns.  For the Cowboys, their season has been simplified immensely: win out at Kansas and at home versus Oklahoma and they’ll win their first-ever Big 12 divisional title and find themselves in the conference title game against, in all likelihood, Nebraska.  And, on a related note, any school that has a head-coaching opening this offseason and doesn’t at least give OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen a call should be ashamed of themselves.

Who’s this John Clay you speak of?
Wisconsin entered Saturday’s home game with Indiana ranked No. 6 in the country but without the Nation’s No. 13 rusher.  Pfffttt, as if that mattered.  All the Badgers did was run for 337 yards and score a school-record 83 points — in the modern era — in an absolute shellacking of the Hoosiers.  Sophomore Montee Bell and freshman James White rushed for 167 and 144 yards, respectively, and combined for five touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.  Incidentally, the 83 points scored by UW is the most in the Big Ten since 1950 and the third-most in conference history.

Redemption for FSU’s Mr. Clutch
Last week, Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a field goal with three seconds left that would’ve given the Seminoles a huge ACC win over North Carolina.  Exactly one week later, the sophomore made up in part for that gaffe.  On the game’s final play, Hopkins drilled a 55-yard field goal to give FSU a 16-13 win over Clemson.  It was the third-longest FG in the Tallahassee Stadium’s history.  Not only that, but it sets up a FSU with a clear path to the ACC Atlantic crown; win next weekend at Maryland, and FSU can punch their first ticket to the title game since 2005.  (Writer’s note: as noted by one of our bosses, several emailers and a commenter, North Carolina State would win the Atlantic division based on their win over the Seminoles late last month.  My apologies for any inconveniences this may have caused.)

Knoxville, you’d best get to thanking Lane Kiffin
I know.  It’s wrong to think that let alone type it out loud, but it’s the truth.  Tennessee fans owe The Great Deserter a hearty “thank you”.  You see, Tyler Bray only had offers from San Diego State and Fresno State before Kiffin stepped in and offered the California native a scholarship to come play for the Volunteers.  Fast forward about 14 months and, while Kiffin is gone and remains Public Enemy No. 1 in the state, all Bray did Saturday was throw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-14 blowout of Ole Miss, giving UT their first SEC win under new head coach Derek Dooley.  In the two games Bray has started — both wins, incidentally — the freshman has thrown for 648 yards, eight touchdowns and, most impressively, zero interceptions.  Yes, Kiffin screwed over Rocky Top royally, but he at least left Dooley & Company a player who appears to have “franchise QB” written all over him.  That counts for something, right?  Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

The Big East
72 days into the 2010 season, not only does the Big East finally have their first bowl-eligible team, they have three, count ’em, three schools that have now qualified for the postseason — Syracuse, South Florida and West Virginia.  However, and as if to put an exclamation point on just how miserable the current state of the conferences , neither of those three bowl-eligible teams currently resides in first place in the Big East.  That’s just sad.  And pathetic when you add the fact that the conference is a BcS automatic qualifier.

I’m noticing a theme here…
Minnesota, Colorado and North Texas all won in week twelve, but they also have something else in common: each program fired their coach midseason, with Dan Hawkins of Colorado getting the axe earlier this week. Since “releasing” their respective coaches of their duties, the Minnesota, Colorado and North Texas are 4-4. We’re just sayin’ Arizona State, Indiana…

Paul Wulff’s rear end
If you look at any hot seat list, you’re sure to find Paul Wulff’s name.  After today’s win over Oregon State?  You shouldn’t.  He shouldn’t be anywhere near talk of his losing his job at season’s end.  Yes,  Wulff’s just 2-9 this season, and 5-31 overall.  But, he’s building something, he’s creating a football program out of the mess he inherited.  I understand that this will probably fall on deaf ears and Wulff will probably get the axe at season’s end — which would be understandable — but I hope the athletic department looks beyond the record and sees what’s going on at Wazzu.  Then again, the college football editor at NBC Sports.com thinks I’m under the influence of a leafy substance for taking this stance, so coughcoughcough…

Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan
Check out the stat line for the Boilermakers outstanding defensive lineman in a loss to Michigan: four sacks, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles (one recovered) and 10 total tackles.  Oh, and those two forced fumbles gave him 14 for his career, tying him for the NCAA record with three other players.  It’s a shame he plays on a crappy football team, because Kerrigan is one helluva football player.

LOSERS

TCU
It was bad enough the Horned Frogs fell behind San Diego State 14-0 at home, then had to hang on for a 40-35 win following a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Aztecs.  Add on to that close win a 28-3 pasting Utah took at the hands of Notre Freaking Dame, and you have a TCU squad that should be very concerned about their hold on the No. 3 spot in both the human polls and the computer rankings.  That loss by the Utes will absolutely kill the Horned Frogs in the “minds” of the machines; coupled with Virginia Tech continuing their winning streak — which could be somewhat mitigated by Oregon State’s baffling loss to Washington State, to be fair — and we could very easily see Boise State leapfrog TCU (see what I did there?  Leapfrog, Horned Frogs?) when the latest set of BcS rankings are released Sunday night.

Slight Heisman hiccup for LaMichael
Oregon’s LaMichael James came into today’s game with Cal leading the country in rushing yards per game by a fairly comfortable margin and, given the uncertainty surrounding Cam Newton, with perhaps a chance to slide into a co-front runner slot next to the Auburn QB in the race for the Heisman.  29 carries, 91 yards and zero touchdowns later, James will not only find himself still behind Newton in the Heisman projections, but he could find his rear-view mirror full of Boise State’s Kellen Moore or Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

How the mighty have fallen
In the past three seasons, Texas and Florida have combined for 11 losses.  This season, those two football programs have a combined ten losses, and there are still a total of four regular season games left for both.  The Longhorns, though, are the real disappointment of the stumbling duo.   Not only have they lost six of their last seven games, a staggering five of those losses have come at home; coming into this season, they had lost four games at home the past six years.  We’re going to assume the Longhorns will get past Florida Atlantic — wait, is that something we should assume? — this coming weekend.  That would mean they would need to beat in-state rival Texas A&M at home on Thanksgiving Day in order to become bowl eligible.

Nick Fairley
There’s not a bigger fan of the Auburn defensive lineman than myself.  Talked about him belonging in the Heisman discussion earlier this year, as a matter of fact, and still feel that he’s the best interior lineman on that side of the ball in the country.  But his planting the crown of his helmet into the middle of Aaron Murray’s back well, well after the Georgia quarterback released the ball was an inexcusable and beyond-dirty play.  If I’m the SEC, I’m sitting his ass down for a game, especially when you factor in the borderline cheap shot that injured Murray late in the game.  I’m far from a proponent of the wussification of the game that’s taken place over the past couple of years, but that kind of asinine crap does not belong in the game.  Of course, my wailing and gnashing of teeth will fall on deaf ears in the league office, but at least I got it off my chest.

Jacory Harris’ hold on his job
Randy Shannon can say all he wants that his quarterback to start the season will return to the top of the depth chart once he completely recovers from a concussion.  Stephen Morris’ play in two starts, however, screams to maintain the status quo.  The true freshman has passed for over 500 yards in the pair of wins, and the Hurricanes have gone, in a span of two weekends, from ACC also-rans to two wins and a Virginia upset of Virginia Tech away from playing in the conference title game.  Yes, it would be tough to yank and sit a player of Harris’ stature.  However, it’s patently obvious that the Hurricanes’ offense is a better one with Morris in control.  We just don’t know if Shannon can or would pull the trigger on the best move for his 2010 team.

Fans of long-time rivalries
Yes, Nebraska no doubt made the right call in making the move from a shaky Big 12 to to the rock-solid, cash-flush Big Ten, but the move will not come without a significant historical price.  That Nebraska throttled Kansas 20-3 is insignificant; the fact that this will likely be the final game between the two schools.  At 105 consecutive years, the Cornhuskers-Jayhawks series is the longest uninterrupted rivalry in major college football.  The two schools have played every year since 1906; Theodore Roosevelt was president — and JoePa was still in grade school — the first times these institutions met on a football field.  Yes, it wasn’t one of the greatest rivalries in college football, but you still hate to see long-running series such as these fall by the expansion wayside.

The Fightin’ Zooks
Minnesota 38, Illinois 35, ending the Gophers’ nine-game losing streak by overcoming a ten-point, fourth-quarter deficit on the road.  Of course, that can only mean one thing…

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BONUS TIME!!!

Quote of the Day
Steve Spurrier, when asked where this title stacked up against his others: “It’s my latest.”

Stat of the Day
Gene Chizik is 19-5 in his two years at Auburn.  Chizik was 5-19 in his two years at Iowa State.  Speaking of 5-19, I wonder where this loser gentleman was seated Saturday…

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Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

MAC football
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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”