Friday, September 25, 2020   
Longest Student Health Center hosting Sept. 29, Oct. 8 flu vaccine clinics for students, employees
With flu season quickly approaching, Mississippi State's Longest Student Health Center will be hosting two flu vaccine clinics that are open to all MSU students (free/no charge) and any employee who wishes for their insurance to be billed. Most health insurances cover flu vaccination at 100 percent. No appointments are needed or scheduled for these two flu clinics on Tuesday, Sept. 29 from 1-4 p.m. and Thursday, Oct. 8 from 8-11 a.m. The clinic will be closed to regular patient visits during these hours, but prescriptions can still be dropped off or picked up at the center's retail pharmacy. Students and employees are being encouraged to take advantage of these flu clinics while the center is not also performing COVID-19 testing or seeing other patients. To aid in Mississippi State University's efforts to encourage social distancing and speed the overall process, the health center will be utilizing several different exam rooms for administration of this vaccine. To save time, students and employees are encouraged to click here, complete the appropriate forms, sign where indicated, and bring these forms to the health center.
First FY 2022 Legislative Budget Hearings held with major state agencies
Legislative Budget Hearings were held on Thursday in Jackson. Several of the state agencies appeared before the Lt. Governor, Speaker and members to present their budget requests for FY 2022. DPS requested $97,291,995 for the FY 2022 year from the Legislature. Their actual expenses of FY 2020 were at $95.5 million and the estimated expenses of FY 2021 were put at just over $91.5 million. They have an overestimate for FY 2021 of $5.8 million. MDOC requested $364,776,348 for FY 2022. At the top of their list of priorities is the completion of the Walnut Grove facility project. While MDES is a federally funded program, they can sometimes have budget requests which are considered special funding by the Legislature. This year, Director Jackie Turner said they are requesting $174,076,000 for FY 2022. Part of that funding will go to additional employment up to $1.6 million, as well as $41,250 for the replacement of vehicles that fall within the DFA category. Medicaid is asking the Legislature for $898,676,959 for FY 2022, which is a decrease of over $496,000 from last year. It also marks the second potential consecutive year that Medicaid has requested and used under $900 million in state dollars. The Department of Education made an ask of $2,857,705,090 for FY 2022 which is a 10.87 percent increase over the FY 2021 appropriation.
Legislators anticipate revenue slowdown as they begin budgeting process
Despite unprecedented growth in revenue collections during the first two months of the current fiscal year, House Speaker Philip Gunn warned Thursday that legislative leaders should spend cautiously as they begin the lengthy process of developing a budget for the next one, which begins July 1. Gunn made his remarks during a hearing of the Legislative Budget Committee where Corey Miller, an economic analyst for the state Institutions of Higher Learning, told the panel the state economy had been buoyed by funds Mississippians received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. "We attribute much of this performance to the federal transfers from the CARES Act, which included additional unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program, and the $1,200 taxpayer stimulus checks," Miller told legislative leaders. The size of Mississippi's economy reduced 20.9% during the second quarter, compared 31.7% on the national level. While the economy has rebounded, Miller said both nationally and in the state the expectation is that there will be substantial contractions for the economy for the calendar year. Growth is expected to occur in 2021, though, and the state is projected to rebound to its current trend of lagging behind the national economy.
Mississippi using inmate labor to make repairs at prison
The head of Mississippi's troubled prison system told lawmakers Thursday that the Department of Corrections intends to move some inmates out of a private prison and into a state-owned facility by mid-December. Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said the department is spending about $1.5 million and using inmate labor to make repairs to the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility so it can be reopened. Cain said a contractor submitted a $10 million bid to do the work on the facility in Leake County. "We don't have $10 million. We used inmate labor and so forth," Cain told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. He didn't provide details about the work being done at the Walnut Grove prison, which has been closed since 2016. The state has continued to pay for the debt it incurred to build the facility. The 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee held several hours of public hearings Thursday as part of the long process of working on a state spending plan for fiscal 2022, which will begin July 1.
Mississippi reports 722 new COVID-19 cases, 20 deaths
The Mississippi State Department of Health on Friday reported 722 additional cases of COVID-19 and 20 additional deaths. Benton County in Northeast Mississippi reported one additional death. The statewide total number of cases since March 11 now stands at 96,032, with 2,894 total deaths. Around 85,327 people are estimated to have recovered from the virus as of September 20. All counties in the Daily Journal's coverage area reported additional cases. The additional case counts are: Alcorn (12), Benton (1), Calhoun (2), Chickasaw (9), Clay (3), Itawamba (21), Lafayette (19), Lee (31), Marshall (3), Monroe (7), Oktibbeha (5), Pontotoc (7), Prentiss (11), Tippah (4), Tishomingo (10) and Union (4).
'Just enough of the right stuff': Why Mississippi's COVID-19 numbers are flattening
After a steep summer climb in coronavirus cases, Mississippi's average daily numbers have trended down for three months. How fast the virus spreads in an area is a function of many things, but they all revolve around behavior and math. Virus transmission boils down to a numbers game -- when fewer people have and spread the virus, transmission thins out, helping to flatten the curve over time. The idea of flattening the curve has never been about stopping spread, but reducing that spread over time so health systems are not overwhelmed. Spread is inevitable -- it's limiting and containing transmission that drives infectious disease mitigation strategies. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said Wednesday that statewide efforts to reduce spread since the late July peak are paying off, but new challenges will arise. "We hope that everybody just keeps up the good work because I think we can continue to keep it down and get through the fall if we just maintain masking and distancing, especially as we go into the holidays, there will be those new challenges," he said.
State, local officials discuss absentee voting amid pandemic
We're weeks away from the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic will change how many Americans vote this Election Day. This year, most states are allowing voters to cast a ballot by mail without an excuse. "We do not have that in Mississippi, but we do have absentee voting by mail if you fall in one of those four excuses," Secretary of State Michael Watson said. For The Magnolia State, in-person voting is the only option, unless you fall under a traditional absentee excuse. A new excuse added by the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year allows anyone "under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020 or is caring for a dependent who is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19" to vote by absentee ballot. So what does that mean for someone in Mississippi who is diagnosed positive for COVID-19 a day or two before the November election or on Election Day? WDAM asked the Secretary of State and Gov. Tate Reeves. "What does that look like if someone does have COVID-19?" Watson said. "You can't turn them away, they're going to have to vote. It's a precious right, and so we've got to protect that right. So, I think what you're going to see a lot of the counties do are set up tents outside and then have tables there so they're again reducing the exposure." "I don't anticipate that there being any real challenges with individuals that are trying to get to the polls to vote," Reeves said. "If they have COVID-19, they can vote absentee. If it happens on Election Day, then obviously those are things that we'll have to deal with."
Mississippi receives $23M in federal funds for flood relief
Mississippi has received nearly $23 million in emergency relief funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation to repair federal roadways that were damaged by severe flooding. U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith announced the five Federal Highway Administration awards on Thursday, according to a statement on her website. The funds include $8 million to the National Park Service for repairs along the Natchez Trace National Parkway and at Vicksburg National Military Park, where mudslides and erosion closed parts of the park in February. The Republican senator serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the park service. Nearly $15 million was also set to go to the Mississippi Department of Transportation for various repairs and nearly $42,000 were earmarked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With 'profound sorrow': Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state at US Capitol
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman in American history to do so, in commemoration of her extraordinary life. Mourners gathered under coronavirus restrictions for the service for Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87, as her casket made the short procession from the court's steps where it had been on public view for several days to the East Front of the Capitol. A military honor guard carried it inside the Capitol's stately Statuary Hall. The politics of the moment, in a tense election year, rippled throughout the celebrations this week of Ginsburg's life and career. But Friday's ceremony began as a celebration and honoring of her life and work, with musical selections from one of Ginsburg's favorite opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. She is the first Jewish American to lie in state at the Capitol.
'Fix Congress Committee' launches framework for earmark revival
An 18-month effort to make Congress work smarter has yielded 97 official recommendations from the House Modernization of Congress Committee and aims to stem the brain drain among staffers, boost congressional capacity, and overhaul the budget and appropriations process. "It's not 100, but 97 is still an A," said Washington Democrat Derek Kilmer, the panel's chairman. Committee members advanced their final slate of 40 proposals Thursday in the last meeting of the select committee, which was originally only slated to last one year. The panel's final report will be released in the coming weeks and, according Kilmer, will lay out "in gory detail" the decline in congressional staffing and capacity that the institution faces. Unlike most panels on Capitol Hill, the Modernization Committee is evenly split with six Democrats and six Republicans, and has been unusually bipartisan. Kilmer and Georgia Republican Tom Graves, who serves as vice chairman, have made collegiality a priority. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they even mixed up the seating chart so that Republicans sat next to Democrats instead of each party on separate sides.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi abruptly shifts course, restarts relief push amid signs economy is straining
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abruptly shifted course Thursday and moved to assemble a new coronavirus relief bill to form the basis for renewed talks with the White House, amid mounting pressure from moderates in her caucus and increasingly alarming economic news. The new legislation would be significantly narrower in scope than the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May. Pelosi (D-Calif.) has more recently focused on an additional $2.2 trillion in aid -- a figure Republicans say is still too high. But in a meeting with House Democratic leaders Thursday she said the new bill would be around $2.4 trillion, because of urgent needs arising from restaurants and airlines. Details were provided by a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was private. Pelosi asked key committee chairs to get to work on putting together the bill. The package is expected to include stimulus checks, aid for airlines, small businesses, cities and states, as well as rental assistance, unemployment assistance and funds for election security and the U.S. Postal Service.
'Everyone sees the train wreck coming': Trump reveals his November endgame
Following his defeat in the 2016 Iowa caucus, Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz of cheating and said the results should be nullified. After winning the presidency that fall, Trump insisted, without evidence, that there was "serious voter fraud" in three states he lost to Hillary Clinton. Now, running behind Joe Biden in the polls, the president complains the outcome will be "rigged." After more than four years of nonstop voter fraud claims, insinuations that he might not accept the presidential election results and at least one float about delaying the November election, it's no secret. Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power this week -- and his choice not to walk back his remarks Thursday in the face of widespread unease -- merely broadcasts his strategic intent in terms both parties can understand. As a result, Republicans can no longer truthfully deny that Trump may be unwilling to leave office in the event he is defeated. And Democrats must now confront the possibility they may not have the power to stop him. It's an unprecedented backdrop for a modern presidential race.
How Does Biden's Catholicism Play to a Polarized Electorate?
Arriving a few minutes late for 9 a.m. Mass, former Vice President Joe Biden slipped into a pew near the back of St. Anthony Catholic Church last October in Florence, S.C. When two Communion lines formed, he entered the one opposite where the Rev. Robert Morey was distributing what Catholics consider the body of Christ. As Mr. Biden approached the altar, "Father switched lines," recalled parishioner Doug Amon. Mr. Biden extended his hands to receive the host, something he had done thousands of times in other churches. The priest declined. The two briefly spoke, and the priest delivered a blessing, said Mr. Amon, who watched from the other line. Another parishioner confirmed his account, details of which haven't been previously reported. "Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of church teaching," Rev. Morey said in a statement about the episode, declining to be interviewed. Mr. Biden, who immediately left the church, told PBS NewsHour: "It's not a position that I've found anywhere else, including from the Holy Father who gives me Communion," referring to the pope. Mr. Biden declined to be interviewed for this article. The Democratic presidential nominee is the leader of a party that has grown more secular by some measures and increasingly liberal, including in its support of abortion rights. That places him in a delicate balancing act as he seeks to become only the second Catholic U.S. president after John F. Kennedy .
Federal Judge Bars Trump Administration From Ending Census Early
A federal judge barred the Trump administration on Friday from ending the 2020 census a month early, the latest twist in years of political and legal warfare over perhaps the most contested population count in a century. In U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Lucy H. Koh issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from winding down the count by Sept. 30, a month before the scheduled completion date of Oct. 31. She also barred officials from delivering completed population data to the White House on Dec. 31 rather than the April 2021 delivery date that had previously been set out. The judge had temporarily stayed the early completion of the census count on Sept. 5 pending a hearing held on Tuesday. The ruling came after evidence filed this week showed that top Census Bureau officials believed ending the head count early would seriously endanger its accuracy.
C-19 Ambassadors make efforts to keep UM campus safe during the pandemic
If you've been on campus at the University of Mississippi this semester, you may have noticed certain people bustling around campus stationed at various buildings, giving out masks and hand sanitizer to anyone who needs it while also providing guidance on the new protocols that must be followed. They are the C-19 Ambassadors. To ensure the safety and well-being of the university community, they were created as part of a new initiative by the university, with Natasha Jeter, vice chancellor of wellness and student success, and Joshua Tucker, Jeter's graduate assistant. "Unfortunately, in March, the university had to close due to the pandemic," Tucker said. "Understanding that, we did not want this to happen again. In the fall, Dr. Jeter suggested that we strategize on how to ensure that the individuals on campus adhere to the protocols, and that we continue with what we consider the college experience." The process of making C-19 Ambassadors a reality was not something that happened overnight, according to Tucker. It started in May and is continuing to develop.
Northeast Mississippi Community College receives $100,000 donation from Mississippi Silicon
Northeast Mississippi Community College received a $100,000 donation on Wednesday from Mississippi Silicon and its investor Rural Development Partners to help the college with workforce training and fund an addition to the college's heating, ventilation and air conditioning lab at Northeast's Corinth campus. Northeast President Dr. Ricky G. Ford said the college is appreciative of Mississippi Silicon for helping to provide new opportunities for students. "It's about forming partnerships with people in the community," Ford said. "When we do that, we combine our resources and increase the opportunities for our students." NEMCC's Corinth campus already has a Workforce Industrial Maintenance Lab via the college's Division of Workforce Training and Economic Development, and the addition of an HVAC lab will further benefit students. Mississippi Silicon's donation will give maintenance technicians in the NEMCC program a competitive advantage by allowing them to apply for jobs in a high-demand job market in the Northeast Mississippi area, the state and around the nation.
White House COVID expert praises University's virus response in Auburn visit
Auburn University received a visit from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, on Thursday afternoon. Birx had praise for the Southeastern Conference's response toward COVID-19 and optimism about Alabama's improving situation. "I think when I was last here at the beginning of July, it was a very difficult time in general for Alabama," Birx said. "We saw nearly 95-100% of every county in Alabama, rural or urban that had more than 10% test positivity to COVID-19." Birx met with Gov. Kay Ivey in Montgomery, Alabama, this morning before her visit to Auburn, whom she commended for implementation of actions like the statewide mask mandate. During that meeting, Birx said she and Ivey discussed how Southern states gave other areas of the country an idea about the implications of crowding indoors in public areas, as well as keeping actions like the mask mandate in effect through the fall. "Gov. Ivey was one of the first governors to go out there with a mask mandate and make these really important changes at the state level," Birx said. "[She was] really asking everybody in Alabama to be together in this and really out of respect for one another to wear a mask and protect one another."
State, U. of Florida push for in-person classes next semester
In-person classes at the University of Florida are looking to return to pre-pandemic levels under orders by the state and college administrators. In an email sent to deans on Wednesday, Provost Joe Glover said UF is moving to a "more robust" set of in-person classes for the spring 2021 semester, and each college should schedule at least as many face-to-face classes that were given last spring. The decision, the email continued, will help achieve the university's goal to utilize classrooms "at or above" the level achieved in spring 2020. UF spokesman Steve Orlando said the 12 schools under the state's university system are being "encouraged" to offer more face-to-face classes in the spring. In UF's reopening plan, 35% of undergraduate, graduate and professional course sections are held in-person, or in a hybrid format. Another 35% are synchronous online classes, or streamed live during a scheduled class time. The remaining are held in an asynchronous schedule, or posted online for students to watch later.
Florida governor pushes back against 'draconian' university policies
Gov. Ron DeSantis thinks students who attend Florida's 12 state universities should be able to socialize without worrying about getting thrown out of school. To that end, DeSantis said Thursday he's willing to consider a college students' "bill of rights" that would preclude state universities from taking actions against students who are enjoying themselves. The governor's office didn't immediately respond to questions about when he might issue the "bill of rights" or whether it would be done through an executive order. Trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Florida State University announced last week that it would suspend students who attend or host large gatherings on or off campus. Also, it said it would suspend students who test positive for COVID-19 but don't isolate themselves. "I personally think it's incredibly draconian that a student would get potentially expelled for going to a party," DeSantis said Thursday. "That's what college kids do."
U. of Tennessee students adjust to life on campus during COVID
It's been over a month since classes started at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but Hailey Geske has not yet been in a classroom. The freshman ended her senior year of high school with online classes, then started her college experience the same way. The hardest part has been trying to meet new people while staying safe and adhering to social distancing guidelines, she said. "When you think of coming to school, you think of meeting so many new people and seeing so many new walks of life, meeting so many different people and things like that," she said. "That is not the case when you're not (in a classroom). You don't meet a lot of people." Although she physically lives on campus, she's not familiar with where academic buildings are located because all of her classes are online. She's been able to meet people in her dorm and said having online classes at the end of her senior year helped prepare her for an online college experience. Students returning to Knoxville were met with calls to take the coronavirus seriously. When the first cluster of COVID-19 cases was announced, stemming from a party thrown off campus, Chancellor Donde Plowman told students that party hosts would be held responsible, with the possibility of suspension and expulsion for students.
Mun Choi: No in-class COVID spread at U. of Missouri
While hundreds of University of Missouri students and dozens of faculty and staff have contracted COVID-19, there has been no transmission within a classroom, UM System President Mun Choi told the Board of Curators. During their first meeting since classes began, Choi, who is also chancellor of the Columbia campus, gave a system and campus report on the pandemic. He was joined by the chancellors of the campuses in Rolla, Kansas City and St. Louis, all three of which have seen far fewer cases than Columbia. There were many reasons arguing in favor of opening the campuses and holding as many in-person classes as possible, Choi said. One is what most students enrolling expect to receive for their tuition dollars, he said. "The majority of our students and faculty want to have in-person learning experiences," Choi said. Choi warned the board that the pandemic is likely to continue into 2021 or beyond, depending on the development of an effective vaccine.
COVID-19 Testing Lab Shows How Colleges Can Reopen Safely
In a vast, unintentional public health experiment, millions of U.S. college students have descended on campuses to begin their fall semester with an unwelcome new arrival: the novel coronavirus. Severe COVID-19 outbreaks have already forced some campuses to close and move instruction online. Others have been fending off a surge in cases by relentlessly testing students and staff and isolating anyone whose results are positive. In order to safely reopen, institutions of higher learning need the capacity to conduct a massive amount of coronavirus tests and get results back quickly. The Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University offers a program that can help meet this need. More than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. Northeast have already contracted with the nonprofit biomedical research institution, whose expertise in high-volume genome sequencing allowed it to pivot to offering COVID-19 assays earlier this year. Although these are still early days, this type of rapid testing could be a model for reopening colleges and other institutions nationwide.
These Colleges Are Winning the Fight Against Covid-19 -- at Least for Now
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began the fall semester as a shining example of higher education's can-do spirit: It reopened its doors for in-person instruction with an ambitious plan to test more than 40,000 students, twice a week. It was an enormous effort, made possible by a quick, inexpensive saliva test that the university's own scientists invented. The system worked well -- until a few students kept partying even after testing positive. As a result, infections spiked at the end of August. The New York Times highlighted Illinois as an example of how "even the most comprehensive approaches to limiting the virus's spread can break down." But the news in Illinois, and across the country, is not entirely hopeless. There are institutions that -- through a combination of good planning and good fortune -- have managed to control their Covid case numbers, holding positivity rates below 1 percent. Illinois's experience, in fact, may be evidence for cautious optimism.
Boulder County bans gatherings among 18- to 22-year-olds in response to COVID-19 spike
In response to a surge of COVID-19 cases at the University of Colorado, Boulder County issued a new public health order Thursday prohibiting 18- to 22-year-olds from gathering in groups of any size outside of their homes. The order applies to all activities other than those required by an employer, coursework for school and students in K-12 schools participating in school-sponsored sports practices, games and other activities, Boulder County Public Health said in an online explanation. Gatherings are defined as "more than one individual coming together or being physically near each other for any shared or common purpose, including socializing or participating in any activity together including but not limited to shopping, dining or exercising." The order applies even to members of the same household whenever they leave their residences. Those found to be in violation of the order are subject to fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences of up to 18 months.
Trump administration proposes major overhaul to student visa rules
The Trump administration is set to publish a new proposed rule today that would set fixed terms of up to four years for student visas and establish procedures for international students to apply to extend their stay and continue studying in the United States. Applications for extensions of stay could be approved "if the additional time needed is due to a compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student's control," the new rule states. Currently, student visas are good for "duration of status," meaning students can stay in the U.S. indefinitely if they remain enrolled in school and otherwise abide by the rules relevant to their immigration status. The Trump administration says the proposed rule is necessary to increase oversight of international students and combat fraud and visa overstays. Advocates for international students say the proposed rule creates unnecessary new burdens for international students and makes the U.S. a less welcoming destination at a time when international student enrollment has already been declining.
As U.S. Revokes Chinese Students' Visas, Concerns Rise About Loss Of Research Talent
Those who study the interplay of Chinese and U.S. higher education say a tiny subset of the more than 360,000 Chinese students in the U.S. may pose a threat to national security. They say revoking visas could be catastrophic for America's efforts to attract Chinese research talent. Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Paulson Institute, which studies the U.S.-China relationship, has found that nearly a third of the most advanced work in artificial intelligence in the U.S. is done by Chinese nationals. "There's no precise way to measure the national security costs versus the benefits of Chinese researchers in our ecosystem," Sheehan says. "But given that they're contributing to about one-third of the top AI research output, it's tough to imagine that that is outweighed by the industrial espionage cases that we've seen to date." Should the U.S. continue to revoke or restrict visas, Chinese researchers will almost certainly go elsewhere, Sheehan says.
President Trump Bars Federal Grants for 'Divisive and Harmful' Racial-Sensitivity Training
College diversity officers and people who support efforts to improve racial climates on campus reacted with alarm on Thursday to word that President Trump had expanded a ban on training programs that he says promote racial or sexual "stereotyping" and "scapegoating." In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump said the ban, originally aimed at programs for government employees, was being extended to federal grantees and government contractors. "Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don't, there's nothing in it for you!" he tweeted. In an executive order signed on Tuesday, Trump wrote that contracts can be refused or canceled if they don't include an assurance that the recipients will avoid "workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating." Experts interviewed by The Chronicle said it was not clear whether colleges that received federal grants would have to halt programs that violate the executive order's provisions or whether they would just be prohibited from using federal grants to pay for them.
Students call on campuses to cancel Election Day classes
Tamir Harper, a junior at American University, has spent the days since Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died organizing online -- urging his peers to register to vote, engaging politicians in his hometown of Philadelphia and then, finally, tweeting at his university to cancel classes on Election Day. "What side of history do you want to be on?" he wrote. Classes are still scheduled to meet virtually Nov. 3 at AU, which is conducting the fall semester online because of the coronavirus. But Harper's recommendation has gained momentum, he said. "We're always rated the wonkiest school, but we aren't even ensuring our students are being civically engaged," Harper said in an interview, referring to AU's ranking as one of the most politically active campuses in the nation. "This is a big election." The upcoming presidential election has been described with a slew of superlatives -- most consequential, monumental and high-stakes of this generation. The reason, students said, is that their futures are on the line. The next president will contend with the threats of climate change and the student debt crisis. He will maneuver the pandemic and determine the future of health care while confronting racism and demands for police reform.

No. 6 LSU and Miss. St. clash in test of new faces, systems
No. 6 LSU begins its national title defense with a game featuring numerous new faces on both sidelines. The Tigers have Myles Brennan taking over at quarterback for Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow while Mississippi State has a new coach in Mike Leach whose reputation for high-flying offenses precedes him. Neither new-look team got the soft opening against lower-level competition that had been initially scheduled. The COVID-19 pandemic led the SEC to delay the season openers to this Saturday and confine all member teams to a 10-game, league-only slate. Leach says the change in schedule and an opener in LSU's Death Valley -- albeit at 25% capacity -- has forced him to adjust his approach to installing his "Air Raid" offense. He's dialed back on playbook volume and experimentation. "Less trial and error," Leach said. "We've really got to hone it down and try to feature what we're best at." The game day environment around Death Valley will be far less festive amid COVID-19 protocols. LSU’s renowned tail-gaiting scene -- replete with Louisiana fare -- has long been an attraction itself, luring thousands more for parties around campus than 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium can hold. But LSU interim System President Tom Galligan said the university is “on high alert” and will enforce policies banning tailgating on campus and requiring mask-wearing at the game.
How Mike Leach has Mississippi State football 'full force' before season-opener against LSU
Leave it to Leach. If there's problem, odds are Mike Leach will figure out a way to solve it. Leach's propensity to make swift, often out-of-the-box decisions stretches back to his childhood, long before he became the 34th football coach in Mississippi State history. It came long before he had to game plan against the No. 5 LSU Tigers for Saturday's season opener at Tiger Stadium. Long before a once in a lifetime pandemic made it much more difficult to not only prepare for that menacing, maiden matchup but an entire slate of SEC games as a whole. Leach the problem solver emanated from his surroundings as an adolescent in Wyoming. Back during a much simpler time in his life, Leach set the stage for what he would become -- the man with the seventh most FBS wins among active coaches. The man who got there by viewing vexing challenges as opportunities to manifest vanquishing victories.
Mississippi State players reflect on Hurricane Katrina 15 years later
Former Mississippi State football player J.C. Brignone was celebrating a win in Week 2 of his junior season of high school when St. Stanislaus head coach Casey Wittman ordered a yellow pad of paper to be passed around the locker room. The instructions were simple: Write down your contact information. "They've got a storm out there that could be potentially bad," Wittman said. "We're going to call everybody and let you know if we're going to practice Sunday." The Brignones had weathered hurricane season in Pass Christian before. A contractor by trade, J.C.'s father, Julio, would drive around town whenever a storm was set to hit the coast and board up customers' windows as a precaution. J.C. had his own process for hurricane prep. He'd stay with longtime friend Brett Ladner, whose father of the same name served as the assistant chief of police in nearby Waveland. The next morning, they'd board an all-terrain Humvee vehicle and ride around town looking to help anyone in need. "I've already sent my family off; this storm is supposed to be pretty damn bad," Brett Sr. told Brignone at the time. "You guys need to go ahead and get out of here." Packing three T-shirts and two pairs of shorts with the expectation of being gone for the weekend, J.C., Julio, his mother, Lee, and their chocolate lab piled into their truck and headed for the Atlanta area. Hours later -- and 15 years ago this past month -- Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana.
SEC football back in bars
Southeastern Conference football is back in action on Saturday. Mississippi State University is traveling to Baton Rouge to take on the defending national champions, LSU. With college football comes the threat of large crowds, but the general manager of Bin 612, Aaron Martin, is bracing for impact. "We're expecting to be full with the 75% capacity restrictions," says Martin. "I still think that it's going to be pretty busy even with the no tailgating or with the 20% stadium capacity." Others in the area are also anticipating large gatherings. Chief of Police Mark Ballard says for those going out to watch the games to be smart. "As a police department, we're going to be pushing out education as to how to do it and how to do it right," explains Ballard. "We look forward to everybody understanding that football is important in a community like Starkville." Although it is exciting to have college football back, Martin says it's important for people to follow the guidelines so the season can continue.
Local season-ticket holders are ready to attend college football games
The college football season has begun and local season-ticket holders for LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss say they are ready to attend collegiate games again. Tom Middleton, a consulting forester and petroleum landman, said he has been a Mississippi State University Bulldogs football season-ticket holder for at least 14 years. Middleton said he has taken his wife, Pam Middleton, his two sons, Alex Middleton and Avery Middleton and their two spouses, Brenna McCann and Hailey Middleton, to home football games at Davis Wade Stadium in the past. Middleton said they sit in section 338, row 1 and seats 12-18 at Davis Wade Stadium. "I picked the middle row so there's nobody getting over me and there's nobody standing in front of me," Middleton said. But this season is different. Middleton said he was only allowed four season tickets for the 2020 season. "My wife and I are going to the home games," Middleton said. "The kids opted out this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic." MSU begins the 2020 season at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at No. 6 LSU. The Bulldogs' first home game is at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 against Arkansas.
Mississippi State Soccer Set to Start the 2020 Home Slate with No. 15 Alabama
The Mississippi State soccer team will start the action in Starkville for all of Athletics in 2020 on Friday as they host Alabama for a 6 p.m. CT kick-off on SEC Network. The Bulldogs (0-0-1, 0-0-1) face No. 15 Alabama (1-0-0, 1-0-0) at home, marking the first State athletics event held in Starkville since March 8 – 201 days ago. State is coming off a double-overtime, 1-1 draw with Auburn to face the Tide. Freshmen Maddy Anderson, KK Pavatt and transfer Alyssa D'Aloise all made their first career starts in the Maroon and White, with freshmen Olivia Simpson and Marcella Cash and transfer Macey Hodge coming off the bench. Fans are encouraged to check the new attendance information before attending Friday's match. This will be the first athletic event in Starkville for MSU since March 8 -- 201 days ago. For more information on the Bulldog soccer program, follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by searching for "HailStateSOC."
How Ole Miss athletics has prepared to host college football games through the pandemic
Take a minute to think about just how unlikely this outcome was. Ole Miss senior linebacker Lakia Henry has. "It's been a rollercoaster ride man," Henry said. "Really. For us to be here right now is unreal." It's all led to this. Ole Miss football players have endured six months of postponements, cancellations, mask wearing, social distancing, isolation from loved ones and swabs up noses for this weekend. SEC football returns to Oxford on Saturday. Things are going to look different. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will be limited to 25% capacity. On-campus tailgating is forbidden, meaning The Grove and all its traditions are off limits. Fans have to wear face coverings unless they're eating or drinking. Elevators will be limited to five passengers per trip. The marching band won't be allowed to perform on the field before games or during halftime. But that's all part of playing football during the COVID-19 pandemic. If it wasn't for these precautions, there wouldn't be a game to host. "What we're trying to do is continue the season," Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter told the Clarion Ledger. Carter's big concern about attendance is what happens when fans enter and exit games. His aim is to avoid clusters and bottlenecks of people at gates because that's where the highest risk of congregation can happen.
Ole Miss baseball suspends team activities due to COVID-19 outbreak
Four days into their fall practice season, the Ole Miss baseball program had to hit the pause button due to COVID-19. On Thursday, the program announced multiple members of the team had tested positive for COVID-19 and were suspending team activities for two weeks. The team will resume activities on Oct. 8. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco issued a statement regarding the suspension of activities. "Player safety is priority No. 1 for our program, and we will take all of the necessary measures to return these players to full health," Bianco said. "We have worked hard this fall to not only improve as a team but also follow safety guidelines in our facility. This two-week break will provide us an opportunity to evaluate our team protocols to ensure we are doing everything we can do to be safe while reinforcing with our players to be mindful of their personal activities both on and off campus." Ole Miss began fall practice on Monday, marking the first time the team has taken the baseball field since the 2020 season was canceled on March 13.
As SEC football season opens, expect shows of unity but no anthem protests on the field
SEC presidents, chancellors and athletic directors discussed the league's approach to the national anthem, including for its 10-game conference-only football season, two SEC athletic directors told USA TODAY Network. The various leadership groups elected to maintain the SEC's approach to not have players on the field prior to football games -- a decision more about staying with instead of amending current protocol. "Part of our responsibility is to give our student-athletes space to share their perspective on all issues, including social justice," Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Lee said. "The times we're living in certainly have shined a light on this issue. But we have been consistent in providing opportunities for them to use their platforms to affect change." The SEC soccer season started Sept. 19, and teams in a pair of weekend matches participated in pregame displays of solidarity. Players held "Show Racism the Red Card" signs before Tennessee played at Alabama. Members of both teams stood together with the signs. Some players knelt during the national anthem, while others stood behind their teammates. "Our message to the team was, 'You are adults, and if you have a personal opinion, we support your right to express it,'" Alabama coach Wes Hart said.
NCAA recommends waiving minimum bowl requirements for 2020 season
The NCAA Division I Oversight Committee on Thursday recommended waiving the minimum requirements for bowl participation during the 2020-21 college football postseason. Presently, FBS teams must finish with a .500 or better record (typically at least 6-6) during the regular season to play in a bowl game. However, with several schools and conferences having postponed or shortened their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a concern that there will not be enough teams to go around for all the bowls. "Providing a more flexible framework for the postseason in this unprecedented time will provide some certainty moving forward," said Shane Lyons, director of athletics at West Virginia and chair of the oversight committee. "These are important postseason opportunities for our student-athletes, and this will help everyone to prepare." Schools must still meet Academic Progress Report requirements to play in a bowl game, which can begin as early as Dec. 1 under the new proposal. There are currently 41 bowl games, plus the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Auburn fans asked not to roll Auburn Oaks, encouraged to practice physical distancing
While the Auburn Family looks forward to celebrating the return of football, officials are asking fans not to roll the two Auburn Oaks and nearby 10 descendant trees this season, and they are encouraging mask wearing and physical distancing during gameday celebrations. University Arborist Alex Hedgepath says that while the two Auburn Oaks planted in 2017 and the 10 descendant oaks in Samford Park showed excellent progress during the 2020 growing season, they still need special care and monitoring to ensure full establishment. Not rolling them this year will allow the trees more time to become more acclimated to their new environment. Fans are encouraged to celebrate football victories by rolling two large southern magnolia trees and a white oak in front of Biggin Hall near Toomer's Corner. Rolling trees with toilet paper is an Auburn tradition after athletic wins. Although the Auburn Oaks are exhibiting signs that show reduced stress and increased stabilization, both trees are still being monitored closely.
ESPN's Mark Jones says he'll refuse police protection at football game
ESPN college football play-by-play announcer Mark Jones tweeted Thursday that he will refuse police protection on Saturday when he is scheduled to work the game between Army and No. 16 Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium. Jones cited his own safety as the main reason he did not want an officer assigned to him. Jones' tweets came after a Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday indicted just one of the three Louisville police officers involved in the March shooting death of Breonna Taylor, 26. Former Louisville detective Brett Hankison was charged with wanton endangerment. The grand jury's decision sparked massive pushback from the sports world, as athletes and coaches have been speaking out about racial injustice for several months. Many professional athletes and coaches expressed their disappointment in the decision as demonstrations and protests continue in Louisville.
Pac-12 football is back: Seven-game season starts Nov. 6-7
The Pac-12 ended a six-month shutdown Thursday as the presidents and chancellors approved a restart of competition, including an abbreviated football season that begins the weekend of Nov. 6-7. Fans won't be permitted. The schedule will be released next week, but the framework is set. Each team will play seven games: five within its division, one inter-division matchup during the regular season and a second inter-division date on the weekend of the conference championship (as a means of providing an additional game). The championship is scheduled for Dec. 18 and will be played on the campus of the division winner with the best record. The move to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the title game has been delayed until next year. In addition, the presidents and chancellors lifted the postponement of Pac-12 basketball, paving the way for teams to begin competition on or near Nov. 25, the start date established by the NCAA. The news was largely expected after a frenzied few weeks that saw the conference secure daily antigen tests, state health officials in California and Oregon agree to loosen restrictions, and the Big Ten -- the Pac-12's partner in postponement -- announce its return.
Bipartisan federal NIL bill introduced for college sports
A bipartisan pair of congressmen introduced federal legislation Thursday that, if passed, would open the door for college athletes to make money from a wide variety of endorsement deals and create some flexibility to adjust their proposed regulations over the course of the next three years. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), provides some restrictions on the types of products or companies college athletes would be allowed to endorse. It stops short of implementing all of the restrictions that the NCAA and other college sports administrators have asked Congress to help them impose. The proposed law would also create a 13-member commission whose role would be to recommend ways for legislators to change the law as the nascent marketplace for college athletes becomes more clear and any unintended consequences emerge. "The reality is we're going down a path we've never gone down before," Gonzalez told ESPN. The congressmen both said they hope to bring the bill to a vote sometime in early 2021.

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