As college football tries to tiptoe into these uncharted waters, the biggest suggestion seems to be keeping some flexibility.

You're trying to hit a moving target, particularly with scheduling.

Nobody knows what is going to happen.

Even if they are limited to conference games only, conferences are going to have make some tough calls on the fly. Better have some wiggle room.

Major League Baseball couldn't get through the first weekend of its delayed/shortened season without a big outbreak of the coronavirus shutting down the Florida Marlins, at least for now.

There is precedent, however, at least for the SEC.

It was a minor nuisance compared to the scope of what football might have to deal with in the coming months.

But in late January of 1986, the LSU basketball team returned from a Wednesday night game at Florida with two players feeling poorly.

Of course it was Florida. Where else would it be? Although, in this case the two Tigers apparently were ill before the trip. After further examination, it turned out star forward John Williams and defensive ace Bernard Woodside had the chicken pox.

You can lose two players to injury; it happens all the time.

But it went beyond that.

Chicken pox is no big deal for infants and toddlers. But in adults it can lead to far more serious problems like encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain tissue, and other ailments.

It's also highly contagious.

There were, and are, vaccinations for it. But the shots only prevent the worst effects. The only real immunity for it was from having chicken pox as a child. Those vaccinated were in no danger, but could be — the one day catch-word of 2020 — "asymptomatic," and still spread the disease.

So while Williams and Woodside were isolated in a Baton Rouge hospital, LSU did its due diligence and found four players who were truly immune, had chicken pox as youngsters.

All four were guards and only two, Derrick Taylor and Don Redden were starters. The rest had to be quarantined and tested.

That was a Thursday. The Tigers were scheduled to travel to Auburn for a Saturday game.

"It obviously wasn't going to happen," Dale Brown, the legendary LSU coach, remembered by phone Tuesday. He said the current pandemic did make him remember that long-ago incident.

Side note: Why Brown would have wanted the game postponed is beyond me.

It would have been the most Dale Brown moment of all the Dale Brown moments before and after. Imagine how he would have relished taking a team of two starters, two reserves, a football player (LSU safety Chris Carrier briefly joined the team) and two or three ball boys and managers into Auburn and uplifting the human spirit with one of the great feats of all time.

Instead, "We called the conference office," Brown said. "They handled it."

No other Tigers ever came down the chicken pox and all of Florida players, it turned out, were fully immune.

The way Brown remembers it, the SEC left it up to Auburn as to when the postponed game would be rescheduled.

And it did LSU no favors when it was set for Feb. 4.

There wasn't much wiggle room.

It meant four games in five days for the Tigers, all on the road — at Georgia, at Georgetown, then a day off before playing at Auburn (for the makeup) and at Mississippi State on consecutive nights.

"Sonny Smith, the Auburn coach, was a good friend," Brown said. "I begged him not to play it that day, told him it's going to kill us.

"He wouldn't move it."

LSU didn't get much sympathy.

Even in an age before internet message boards, Auburn fans had been furious that the game wasn't played as scheduled, no matter who LSU would have put on the floor.

Eddie Sutton, then the coach at Kentucky would later say, "I thought a terrible precedent was set when they (SEC) postponed LSU's game against Auburn.

"Sickness and injury are part of the deal. You have to go out and play the game. We're always playing mind games, and I'm not sure we're not playing mind games right now. "

But Brown got the last laugh on Auburn.

LSU lost the first two games of the road trip gauntlet to Georgia and Georgetown.

But Williams was back on the floor by the time the makeup game came, and it must have really annoyed Auburn fans to see the guy who obviously wouldn't have played on the original date score 28 points, including the winning layup in a 63-61 LSU victory.

Auburn recovered to eventually reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament that year.

But Brown was far from finished.

That same team eventually pulled off one of the great stunts in NCAA Tournament history when, as a No. 11 seed, the Tigers beat the No. 6 seed (Purdue), No. 3 (Memphis), No. 2 (Georgia Tech) and No. 1 (Kentucky) to reach the Final Four.

The quintessential Dale Brown moment came after all.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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