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Six historical lessons college football can apply to the coronavirus pandemic

Scheduling chaos? Big-time transfers? Pettiness involving a hated rival? Yes, college football during WWI and WWII looked a lot like what is happening today.

While the cause of this offseason’s uncertainty is novel (the coronavirus pandemic), the confusion and conversations themselves are not. What college football’s decision makers are discussing has historical precedents, including World War II, as I explored earlier this week.

Here are six other takeaways and parallels from my dive through the archives:

Related: Could college football start without every team? It has before

1. If you think this has been confusing, you should have seen 1943 Miami.

Imagine this February 1943 Tampa Tribune headline appearing in today's newspaper ... and the Hurricanes still finding a way to field a team. [TAMPA BAY TIMES]

As Miami prepared for its final two games in 1942, two of its three coaches (including head coach Jack Harding) were expecting to be called into service. “Expect University To Quit Football,” The Miami Herald wrote.

In February of 1943, Harding feared his roster would be down to one person. But when he left for the Navy a few weeks later, he was somehow optimistic the Hurricanes could keep playing.

His successor, Eddie Dunn, told the Miami News that June that “we might not even have a football team” because of roster numbers. Three weeks later, he was “pretty certain” he could assemble enough players. The Hurricanes just needed a schedule.

Related: Florida Tech eliminates football because of coronavirus pandemic

“Outlook Dark At University For Football,” a Herald headline read in September after a game against Georgia Tech was canceled. Less than 48 hours later, Miami’s season was finally, officially, on; the ’Canes would play however many games they could against whatever teams agreed to play them.

“It’s important, I think, we have college football here this fall,” Everett Clay wrote in the Herald, “even if it’s not up to past standards.”

Against five service teams and Presbyterian, Miami went 5-1.

2. Keep an eye on transfers.

Frank Sinkwich starred at Georgia and would have been a fascinating addition to the WWII transfer portal. [ASSOCIATED PRESS]

One of the reasons Miami had offseason optimism it could assemble a roster is because it was getting a player from Florida and another from Rollins. Even during World War II, the U was, apparently, all about the transfer portal.

In June 1943, the SEC voted to allow members of the military to play with approval of their commanding officers. The example shared by secretary-treasurer W. D. Funkhouser in the Clarion-Ledger: If the armed services transferred Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich from Georgia to Tulane, he could play at his new school.

The issue could be fascinating this season. If one school decides it can’t play, how many of its players will enter the portal? How quickly could players be ruled eligible for a hardship beyond their control? And how big will the market be for productive grad transfers in August?

3. Schedules could change quickly, in weird ways.

There’s been a lot of chatter about tweaking schedules — especially in non-revenue sports — to reduce travel costs in the face of challenging budgets. Brett McMurphy reported that some schools are talking about potential home-and-home series within their conference to fill games.

Both things happened during WWII, too. Tennessee’s athletic director threw out the idea of a two-game series with Vanderbilt and/or Alabama in January 1943. “The sensible thing about this,” John Barnhill told the Associated Press, “is that teams would travel shorter distances, thereby reducing transportation problems.”

Related: Welcome to Florida, the post-pandemic sports capital of the United States: column

Vanderbilt’s informal team played a home-and-home series with Tennessee Tech “because of the short distance the two teams would have to travel and to give each a home game,” The Tennessean reported that October. The first of those games was scheduled a week and a half from its announcement.

4. The rivalries will not take a break.

College football had a scattered approach during 1917-18 because of World War I and the Spanish flu outbreak. Florida played only one game in 1918. Georgia didn’t play at all either year, while in-state rival Georgia Tech won the national title in 1917 under coach John Heisman — yes, that Heisman — and went 6-1 the next year.

Which leads to my favorite story in the archives: Georgia reportedly offered Pitt’s Pop Warner the absurd sum of $10,000 to rebuild the program. Warner was an accomplished coach who won the 1918 national title. His biggest win of that year? Trouncing Georgia Tech 32-0 to end Tech’s 32-game unbeaten streak.

Related: Making the call on college football will be the hardest decision in sports

As the New York Herald put it: “Tech must be beaten, says Georgia, even if it takes a $10,000 coach to turn the trick.”

Warner didn’t come to Georgia, but that doesn’t matter here. What matters is the fact that not even a world war and pandemic can cause college football rivalries to cool.

5. Teams and coaches will get creative.

The Gators found a way to field a team of teenage high school graduates and men who couldn't service in the military in 1944. [TAMPA BAY TIMES]

After being concerned about compiling a roster in 1943, Florida coach Tom Lieb vowed to scout the state for any 17-year-old high school graduates or young men who were turned away or cut loose by the military. The result was a 1944 squad the Tampa Morning Tribune called a “pick-up team.” But it was a team nonetheless.

Related: How the coronavirus pandemic has changed football recruiting

The Gators went 4-3 that year, losing to all three SEC opponents but beating two service teams plus Maryland and Miami.

6. Remain hopeful.

This line from Fred Russell in The Nashville Banner from June 1943 stuck out, because it could easily have been written today: “Just what would you do on October and November Saturday afternoons if there were no football?”

Fortunately, Russell didn’t have to find out in 1943.

Here’s hoping we don’t, either.

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