‘Stay focused’: CFP games arrive with pandemic raging, again

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — They are trying to have as many fun events as they can at the Orange Bowl for Georgia and Michigan, as always taking advantage of the tropical lifestyle that the Miami area has to offer. Dinner cruises. Beach days. Water toys.

It’s just like normal.

Or, more accurately, the new normal.

College Football Playoff week is here with a pair of semifinal games on Friday: Alabama vs. Cincinnati at the Cotton Bowl followed by Georgia vs. Michigan at the Orange Bowl. For the second consecutive season, college football is going to try to get across the finish line amid a raging pandemic, with numbers soaring all over the country and some other bowl games getting canceled after teams determined they simply aren’t healthy enough to play.

“The key is just to make sure that we put every protocol in place that focuses on their health and safety,” said Jack Seiler, the president and chairman of the Orange Bowl Committee. “We’ve been able to do that. We’re just focusing on the health and safety of the players and making sure we have an incredible game on Friday night.”

The people facilitating the games in both areas – the Orange Bowl in South Florida, the Cotton Bowl in North Texas – are doing all they can to ensure the four teams are healthy and able to play. Staffs are constantly reminded about all the best practices that have become part of everyday life since March 2020, such as mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

The calendars for all four teams have been pared down a bit. Media sessions are virtual, and events where in pre-pandemic times there might have been some fan interaction are basically nonexistent.

“We’ve got to constantly remind ourselves we’re here for a reason,” Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “This is purely a business trip. We’re afforded the luxury of being in Miami in such a great hotel and have all the hospitality around us, but it doesn’t matter if we’re playing this game in Ann Arbor, Athens or Miami, we’re here for a reason, and the College Football Playoffs is that reason.”

Gattis played in the Orange Bowl for Wake Forest 15 years ago. It was a big game, but not one that was sending the winner into the national championship game so he thinks players understand why they might have to curb the fun and frolic a bit this week.

And yes, it seems that understanding does exist.

“It’s getting really crazy out here,” Georgia safety Chris Smith said, when asked about virus numbers rising just about everywhere. “They’re just reiterating the fact that you need to be safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, stuff like that, to make sure we don’t have a breakout or anything like that.”

Bowl games tend to have some sort of element of community involvement, and the Cotton Bowl is no exception. Alabama and Cincinnati were both assigned a hospital to visit in an effort to boost spirits for patients.

This week, those visits are happening virtually. Just in case.

“I think that everybody’s ability to stay focused on the task and manage their business the right way and do everything that they can from a protocol standpoint to not put themselves at risk so that they can stay safe,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

Teams are also acutely aware that an outbreak right now would all but doom their title chances. If a team has an outbreak and cannot play Friday in their semifinal game, its opponent – assuming that team has enough players available – gets a bye to the national title game Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. A handful of games in the NBA, NHL and NFL have been postponed in recent weeks, but the CFP schedule doesn’t allow for that.

“You’ve worked so hard to provide yourself this opportunity,” Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said, discussing his message to players right now. “The last thing we need to do is compromise that by doing something out of character.”

And no plan is perfect. No anti-virus plan is completely unbeatable. All the Crimson Tide, Bearcats, Wolverines and Bulldogs can do is make smart decisions and hope for the best.

“We’ve never lost sight of the fact that health and safety is important, and bringing people back together is important,” Seiler said. “When the lights go on Friday night, on New Year’s Eve, tens of millions of people are going to go, `Wow, that college football game was done right.”‘

Alabama suspends freshman defensive back after drug arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell has been suspended from the team following his arrest on a drug charge.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday after the first practice of spring that Mitchell was suspended from the team “and all team activities until we gather more information about the situation and what his legal circumstance is.”

The Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mitchell and another man, Christophere Lewis, last week on a charge of possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. Lewis also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.

“Everybody’s got an opportunity to make choices and decisions,” Saban said. “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ve gotta be responsible for who you’re with, who you’re around and what you do, who you associate yourself with and the situations that you put yourself in. It is what it is, but there is cause and effect when you make choices and decisions that put you in bad situations.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a five-star prospect rated the 34th-best player and No. 3 safety in the 247Composite rankings.

Mitchell was driving the vehicle during a traffic stop. After deputies smelled marijuana, Mitchell picked up a baggie of marijuana from the passenger floorboard, according to the department’s Facebook post.

Sheriff’s deputies found “an additional significant amount of marijuana, a set of scales, a loaded handgun between the passenger seat and center console, and a large amount of cash,” according to the department’s Facebook post.

Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey suspended after arrest

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey was suspended from the team after he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the team said.

The 23-year-old, who was a team captain last season, was booked at about 2:45 a.m. and released after posting $500 bond, according to online records from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are aware of the situation involving Chad Bailey,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s been suspended according to Department of Athletics policy. We have high expectations for all of our student-athletes, on and off the field, and we will follow all departmental and campus policies.”

Bailey was Mizzou’s third-leading tackler with 57 stops last season. He started all 11 games he played, missing two with an injury. He’ll be a sixth-year senior this fall after opting to return for his final year of eligibility, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Missouri student-athlete handbook says any athlete who is arrested must serve a minimum one-week suspension.

Bailey was pulled over at about 1 a.m. not far from the Columbia campus for an expired license plate and lane violation, a police statement said. Bailey told the officer he had consumed alcohol and then performed poorly on a field sobriety test, the Post-Dispatch reported.