By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
2020 has been a disastrous year for everyone globally with COVID-19, systematic racism, and natural disasters. Still, people are pressing on to make the better of these unfortunate situations. Classes, athletic events, and clubs took a big hit in participation, and the university altered students’ graduation dates in numerous ways. Some students, both in undergraduate and graduate levels, had to wait to graduate due to the effects of COVID-19.
On Sept. 29, the University of South Alabama altered the 2020 Fall Commencement Ceremony from Saturday, Dec. 12 to Thursday and Friday, Dec. 10 & 11. This was announced the same day South Alabama and Troy University agreed to postpone the annual ‘Battle for the Belt’ football game, originally slated for Saturday, Oct. 3. The game postponed to a later date due to heavy concerns with COVID-19 among the South Alabama football program.
Many concerns surfaced about how well Universities and athletic programs were going to handle the continuing effects of COVID-19, and adjustments were made due to the virus. On Oct. 3, the Sun Belt Conference announced after much analysis into the Jaguars and Trojans’ football schedules. The makeup game for the conference’s youngest and most intense rivalry will play on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Dec. 12 is the last official regular season week and is home to some of College Football’s most intense rivalries. Two matchups, in particular, ranked among the top five rivalries by Athlon Sports, which is Michigan at Ohio State (ranked #3) and Army hosting Navy (ranked #1). To play this week shows the Sun Belt Conference might look for this game to play on rivalry week in future seasons.
The date was the only date available for both teams to play their game. On that day, one more Sun Belt game will play as the Appalachian State Mountaineers (2-1) travel to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles (2-1). After the announcement of the date for the Battle for the Belt, the Sun Belt Conference postponed their Conference Championship game to the following week on Saturday, Dec. 19.
The decision to move the football game and the Fall Commencement dates met with some criticism towards the university. This decision said that South Alabama is more concerned with athletics than academics and their students.
Most commencement ceremonies for graduating students happen on a Friday, including many universities this fall. Of the four Sun Belt Conference teams, South Alabama, Troy, and Appalachian State all have their commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 11. Georgia Southern’s schedule for their commencement for either the Dec. 11 or 12 is TBD.
The decision to move the universities’ ceremony allows those working at the football games a graduation ceremony. Several players, assistants, athletic trainers, employees, and media personalities are slated to graduate in Dec. but still expected to work at the games. Many of these individuals, expected to graduate in the fall, need this game to take place as it can expand their careers. The ‘Battle for the Belt’ between the Jaguars and Trojans is one of the exciting rivalries in the conference as this is one of two games in the conference to feature a trophy to the winner of the contest.
The football game’s date, determined by the NCAA and the Sun Belt Conference, was the only date open for both teams to play before the Sun Belt Conference Championship. More decisions will be made if COVID-19 continues its effects on the universities and athletic programs.
As long as they pass all protocols to return on the field, the Jaguars football team will return to the field on Saturday, Oct. 17 as they host the Texas State Bobcats (1-3).