“We need to play. This state needs it; this country needs it,” he said as Pence applauded.
Pence and his team traveled to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to hold a roundtable discussion and a news conference at LSU’s Tiger Stadium. He emphasized the Trump administration’s position that schools at all levels need to open this fall, despite a surge nationally in coronavirus cases over the past month that has many education and athletics administrators worried about the dangers of bringing young people back into situations where social distancing will be difficult, if not impossible.
Louisiana has recently seen one of the sharpest spikes of any state, and Pence on Tuesday noted Baton Rouge was among three communities to which the Trump administration sent “surge testing” teams last week.
“President Trump asked me to be here, to send a very clear message to the people of Louisiana: that we’re with you. That we’re going to stay with you until we put this coronavirus completely in the past,” Pence said. “The people of this state, and your state leadership, your health-care workers, have already demonstrated that the people of Louisiana know how to slow the spread. They know how to flatten the curve.”
Seated next to Pence during the roundtable discussion, with distance between them and between other participants, Orgeron declared “football is the lifeblood of our country.”
“It gets everything going, the economy going — the economy of Baton Rouge and the economy of the state of Louisiana,” the coach added.
Those remarks echoed some made in April by Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy, who said then that “we need to bring our players back … because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
Another argument offered Tuesday by the 58-year-old Orgeron, who won numerous coach of the year awards for his work last season in leading LSU to a 15-0 record and a national title, was that being able to play in 2019 helped Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow go from “a projected sixth-round draft pick” to a huge contract as the No. 1 selection in April’s NFL draft.
“If he didn’t play last season, nobody would ever have known about Joe Burrow and we wouldn’t have won a championship,” Orgeron asserted. “I don’t think we can take this away from these players, or take this away from our state and our country. We need football.”
The sport serves as a vital source of revenue for many universities’ athletic departments, and in anticipation of a major shortfall if a football season can’t be staged, some schools have already announced plans to discontinue several of their sports programs. The Ivy League and the Patriot League have decided to go without fall sports with no guarantees that they will try to play football in the spring, while a pair of heavyweight conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, have announced plans to eliminate all nonconference games for their fall sports this year.
The SEC, of which LSU is a member and which has produced 10 of the past 14 national champions in football, is still mulling its plans for the fall, even after its athletic directors convened for an in-person meeting Monday to discuss the topic.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who also attended the meeting, said afterward: “Time is an asset that’s rapidly slipping away. … The fact we’ve seen increasing cases over the last few weeks across our region is not a positive indicator.”
An athletic director for a Power Five school expressed a more negative outlook Monday to Yahoo Sports, saying anonymously: “Right now, I don’t see a path in the current environment to how we play. I’m confident we’ll get back to what we all think of as normal, but it may be a year before that happens.”
Pence said getting back to normal as quickly as possible, as best as possible, was of utmost importance to the White House.
“President Trump has made it clear that to open up America, we’ve got to open up America’s schools,” he said Tuesday. “We believe it is absolutely in the best interests of students academically, and in terms of every aspect of their personal well-being, to get kids back into classrooms in K12 and to get students back onto campuses like LSU.”
He added that he expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue additional guidance later in the week for parents and for operators of educational facilities. The vice president added that “we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools.” He said the federal government would “respect whatever decisions are made on campuses like this and across the state of Louisiana.”
Orgeron said his staff was the first to return after a widespread coronavirus-related hiatus, was tested regularly and “nobody got sick.”
The coach also claimed that when his players came back to LSU, his staff “spent a week educating them on covid-19,” the disease caused by the virus, with the result that he did not think “any other team in the country was more educated than we were.”
Despite those efforts, approximately a quarter of LSU’s 115-player roster was reported last month to have been placed in quarantine over coronavirus concerns. Orgeron said Tuesday that while his program has “not had one kid catch the virus” from working out in the school’s training facility, “young men will be young men.”
“Some of them went to a party, 100 people were there, they got the virus, they learned their lesson,” he said, adding to laughter from the room, “They’re not going to parties anymore, I promise you.”