— Sports

Pandemic-driven spring football requires virtual creativity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – William and Felicia Mosley found the perfect way for them to make the most of the four-hour drive from their Montgomery, Alabama, home to cheer on their son at Tennessee State.

They turned on Zoom and attended church services.

Juggling church and football is a typical Sunday for NFL fans. The coronavirus pandemic became the norm for college fans like the Mosleys as most Football Championship Subdivision leagues moved their schedules to the spring. Schools still faced some of the same issues that colleges dealt with during the fall and winter – canceled games, limited practices, sidelined players.

But Sundays were more of a spring thing.

The Ohio Valley Conference and Northeast Conference decided to play on Sundays to help schools staff sports in this chaotic spring. The Mosleys worshipped virtually through their own church service, then joined her brother’s service in St. Louis, Missouri, before arriving in Nashville in time to cheer their son Kaleb, Tennessee State’s punter and kicker. “It’s worked out great for us

because usually, we’re traveling … so we get to listen in the car while we’re driving,” William Mosley explained. Said TSU fan Doris Thomas said: “You get up cheering for the Lord, and you come in here and cheer for the team.” With kickoffs ranging from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., TSU athletic director Mikki Allen said it made perfect timing for going from one church to another, and he hears from fans who enjoyed an excellent church

service first. “In the Southeast, football is a religion as well,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of avid football fans, obviously, in Middle Tennessee, in the Nashville area. So they’re coming right after church service, whether they have church service by Zoom or in person, and they get an opportunity to come to the legendary William Jasper Hale Stadium. The OVC was one of the last conferences to decide to postpone the season to spring. Commissioner Beth DeBauche said playing on Sunday was an easy decision, with member schools needing the flexibility to staff all the sports being played. “Sunday was the window that we

thought we could balance out all the staffing responsibilities and again, still give that requisite space, a standalone space for football that fans and families could also come and attend and be a part of it …,” DeBauche said. “It really has turned out to be a good decision for the league.” Some FCS teams played a few games last fall. Jacksonville State played four previous falls and then won the OVC regular-season title this spring. The Gamecocks will be part of the FCS playoff bracket of 16 teams, down from the usual 24, announced Sunday.

But there was no escaping the impact of COVID-19.

“It’s been a glorified spring ball, especially with COVID and injuries and stuff like that,” said TSU coach Rod Reed, whose contract was not renewed Monday after a 2-5 season. “You really haven’t been able to put your best team on the field all year long.”

James Madison can relate.

The Dukes (4-0, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) are the top-ranked team in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25. Still, they have not played a home conference game this season because of cancellations to virus-related issues. If they beat Richmond on Saturday, the Dukes would be in a position to claim the league’s automatic berth in the FCS playoffs. Before the spring season, the CAA ruled that a team needed to play at least three conference games to qualify for the automatic berth. If JMU-Richmond is called off, the Dukes would likely get one of the six at-large bids.

Tennessee State’s season, which began in August last year, is over.

The Tigers started practice in the middle of August, only to be shut down for 10 days by the virus. Then the OVC decided to postpone the season to spring, so Reed didn’t bring players back until Jan. 6. Team meetings and recruiting all took place via Zoom. The Tigers’ first game in February was postponed by a winter storm.

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