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Carter hopeful for on-time start to college football season

Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said Tuesday on the Oxford Exxon Podcast he's optimistic about a college football season being played this fall.
Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said Tuesday on the Oxford Exxon Podcast he's optimistic about a college football season being played this fall. (Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics)

Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said Tuesday he is hoping to bring student-athletes to campus by July 1.

That timetable, Carter said, would allow for an on-time start to the college football season this fall. Any delays past July 1, Carter said, would make it precipitously more difficult to begin the season as scheduled.

“I just feel like there’s some momentum,” Carter said Tuesday during an interview on the Oxford Exxon Podcast. “Will we be playing football Labor Day weekend? I can’t say that yet but that’s our hope and that’s what we’re going to continue to push for.”

Carter said bringing student-athletes to June likely won’t happen. He said getting student-athletes to campus July 1 is the date he’s targeting internally.

“That would give us a great opportunity to get ready for September and have a somewhat normal fall,” Carter said. “None of those decisions have been made.”

Carter, who has been Ole Miss’ full-time athletics director since November 2019, said if reporting dates slide beyond July 1 and later into July or beyond, the football season would likely be pushed back.

Ole Miss is scheduled to open its football season on September 5 against Baylor in Houston. The Rebels’ home opener, the first of seven games scheduled to be played in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, is September 12 against Southeast Missouri.

Carter said he and other Southeastern Conference athletics directors meet via Zoom three times per week. That call has become more normal lately, Carter said, with conversations including discussions on topics such as name/image/likeness compensation for student-athletes and the one-time transfer proposal which is due up for a vote this summer.

Of course, the main topic of those conversations — and all conversations in college athletics — is how to get students and staff back to campuses this summer.

“It’s going to be an interesting situation because in the SEC, there are 11 states that are represented,” Carter said. “We’re trying to find a uniform way for all these states and institutions to come back and bring these student-athletes back and get them ready for the fall. With each state having a different timeline, finding a uniform way to do that may be difficult, but certainly everyone is on the same page trying to get that done.”

Carter said Ole Miss has had conversations with medical experts “basically every day since this thing started.” Carter said Ole Miss is formulating plans for “an in-depth process” to get athletes back to campus, including testing.

“I don’t know that it would mean a 5-day or 10-day or 14-day quarantine, but certainly we would be very diligent in making sure we’re doing the right thing bringing these groups back,” Carter said, adding coaches would need 6-8 weeks to get athletes ready for competition.

“We want to start there and try to make that happen,” Carter said. “We’d be crazy if we didn’t talk about all other scenarios. We’re talking about that as a best-case. Worst-case is you go and start football in the spring and overlay it with all your spring sports and fall sports. And then everything in between (is being discussed) — starting October 1, starting November 1, playing a shortened season. …Everybody is working together. We all have a common goal. We’re optimistic.”

Once an announcement is made about a football season, the first question from many will be if those games will be open to ticket holders. Carter said Tuesday he is hopeful games can be played with fans in attendance.

“That’s going to be our goal — figuring out a way to make that happen,” Carter said, adding there have been discussions about starting the season with no fans or a half-full stadium and then increasing capacity as the season progresses. “I think that’s the route we’re going and certainly the structure we would love to have. I think we’ve got to look at this from all angles. To me, if we can play football and the fans are not there and it’s safe for our student-athletes and safe for our staff, then I think we do it and then slowly bring those fans back.

“If fans can’t physically come to the stadium, but they know every Saturday that Ole Miss is going to be playing football and they can gather around their TVs and watch it, that helps morale and everybody’s mental wellness and all sorts of things. Sports are so important in our region, especially here in Mississippi, and I just think we have to figure out a way to get back and to play. We’ve got to have an open mind about all these scenarios. Obviously, we want to get fans back to our campus as soon as possible but we’ve got to do that in a safe way.”

Carter said games without fans are “not ideal from a financial standpoint, but for us, it’s all about slowly but surely getting back into this thing.”

Carter said it’s possible, in a scenario where half a season is played without fans, the league could go back to television partners and renegotiate, noting that viewership would increase, thereby making advertising more lucrative.

“I just think playing the games and having those is going to be so important,” Carter said. “If there needs to be a phased approach, I certainly understand that but we need to play. That’s the mindset around our league.”

Carter said Ole Miss athletics will follow decisions made by the chancellor’s office and the IHL regarding the student body in general.

“Our hope is that we’re back and everything’s good but what we’ve been doing is planning for every scenario,” Carter said. “As we get more information, we’ll adjust and pivot as needed.”

Carter said Ole Miss is going to have to tighten its belt from a budgetary standpoint, noting the athletics department is fine through June 30. After that, especially in a scenario where there’s no football season or a delayed football season, difficult decisions would have to be made.

“I think the thing that makes our department good is the people,” Carter said. “So I want to protect staff and do everything we can to hold onto our staff. …We’re dealing with a few things that maybe other departments are not just simply because of what we’ve been through over the last four or five years. You look at the lost revenue from the (two-year) bowl (ban) and those types of things. We had to dip into reserves for those. It would look really, really nice if those reserves were there right now. We’re having to navigate a tough situation, but we feel good about it.

“Angela Robinson, our department CFO, has been awesome. Fowler Stains over in the Foundation has worked really hard putting together some great plans for us. We’ll continue to look at it every single day and push to June 30 and hopefully by then, we’ll have some good news on the fall.”