In my seventy-something seasons of watching college football, no two campaigns have ever been the same. Faces change. New players come and old players go. Systems are adjusted. Sometimes entire coaching staffs vanish.
When Robert R. Neyland bowed out, Tennessee played on. Our world did not go dark when the single-wing was discarded.
Someone with no soul dared change the orange and white uniforms. Traditionalists barely survived. Great touchdown runs and dramatic pass plays were longer or shorter and more or less frequent. Turnovers, penalties and weather, of course, varied from year to year.
There was a time when fans were chastised or turned away for trying to smuggle certain refreshments into Neyland Stadium. Want to talk about change? UT sold 23,000 cans of beer last Sept. 7, the Saturday Brigham Young was in town.
Now comes this: Can you imagine 44 players missing practice?
We are tip-toeing toward what will be a very different Tennessee season – as in really different, unlike anything we have seen or heard.
There was a time, first and goal at the 4-yard line, when the stadium was one of the loudest places on Earth. I predict it will be relatively quiet on Oct. 3 if Missouri comes to town.
The Pride of the Southland marching band will be among the absentees. We’ll need a walk-on choir director to stir up a lively version of Rocky Top. Even then, some will sing off-key.
The Vols will not enter through the T. There won’t even be a Vol Walk. There will be no university-sponsored tailgating.
Athletics director Phillip Fulmer announced a one-fourth attendance plan. That means a select audience of 28,000 or so. Bet on under. Current UT students and active Tennessee Fund donors with season tickets will receive priority.
Developments may dictate changes.
Expect less congestion around the arena. Property owners who rented parking places in years past are headed for a recession.
Don’t expect much high-five celebration among strangers. If there are lines at rest rooms, blame social distancing.
Down on the grass, the referee won’t blow a whistle. Too much spittle would come boiling out. He will try to stop action with an electronic sound system attached to his belt.
Steve Shaw, former SEC official, now national coordinator of officiating, explains:
“Just from the health view of going to your mouth a hundred-plus times during a game, we recognized that traditional whistles would have to go.”
In early games, some have not heard stop signals. That is a bad omen.
Check out the pregame coin toss. Instead of a crowd of captains, legends, dignitaries and a covey of cameramen, there will be two officials and one representative per team. Count on the coin being properly sanitized.
Tennessee and opponents may choose how to disinfect footballs.
Masks will abound. Some will slip down. Can you imagine Jeremy Pruitt telling a field judge what he thinks about a missed call in a voice muffled by a mask?
The NCAA extended team sideline areas from 50 yards to 70. Godfathers were fantasizing about players remaining six feet apart.
In a classic understatement, this is a strange time in our once-wonderful world. Regarding the virus, schools are caught between tough options:
Face up to whatever risks exist and play the games in pursuit of television money and help pay some of the bills. Or, give up, turn out the lights, absorb greater losses and use that as a reason to erase some sports that can’t pay their way.
So far, the SEC has done exactly what you would expect. So, the football scene is different. Adjust.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com