Alcorn State's Saturday game in doubt because it doesn't have an athletic trainer
For Alcorn State’s football program, traditionally one of the best among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities that play in the Southwest Athletic Conference, this weekend’s game at South Alabama is a significant financial deal.
As one of the lowest-resourced programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, with an athletics department budget in the $6 million range, a $360,000 paycheck to play one game represents a large chunk of their revenue for the year.
But it is unclear whether the team will make the trip to South Alabama because it has not been able to practice Monday or Tuesday as it failed to have an athletic trainer available to treat players for injuries, head coach Fred McNair said in a radio interview Monday and four people with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.
The question now is whether Alcorn State will play an FBS team without a normal week or practice and with what kind of medical supervision.
Alcorn State athletics director Derek Horne did not return a message seeking comment.
The four people spoke with USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
One of them said the football team’s activities Tuesday were limited to a walkthrough where University-employed nurses — not a certified athletic trainer — were allowed to pass out ice bags.
“This has been an ongoing thing for us,” the person said. “The sad thing is we’ve been winning and you’d think that would be a plus to help us to move forward.”
Alcorn State is 1-1 to start the season, including a 13-10 victory over Northwestern State on Saturday.
The frustration within the program is also boiling over publicly, with McNair saying Monday night: “This is something that needs to be fixed. This is an administration issue.”
Though Alcorn State coaches were still hoping to play the game, the situation has echoes of Grambling State’s 2013 player boycott over the conditions of their facilities and other issues related to the administration’s funding of the program, causing the school to forfeit a game against Jackson State.
While most of the FCS played the 2020 football season in the spring of 2021, Alcorn State opted out entirely. At the time, it was framed as a decision attributed to COVID-19 concerns.
But the people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that the team’s upperclassmen chose not to play because the school had not hired a full-time strength coach or an athletic trainer during the pandemic and thus did not feel prepared to compete.
“It’s not because we didn’t want to play,” one person said. “We just didn’t have the things we need.”
A full-time athletic trainer, Fred Worthy, was hired early at the end of January but left the job in July to return to a private sector health care job. The athletic department did not immediately hire someone to replace him and instead outsourced the job on a part-time basis to two trainers who were not vaccinated against COVID-19, one person said.
“Our team is 90 percent, 95 percent vaccinated and our entire staff is vaccinated,” the person said.
The two part-time athletic trainers tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the team’s game last weekend against Northwestern State, and Worthy was brought back on a temporary basis to get through the game. But after players came in Sunday and received treatment, the person said that Worthy informed the staff he would not be able to come back on Monday.
The coaching staff was told that it would have to hold a modified practice as a result, but the issue has now spilled into multiple days and there have been no typical preparations for Saturday’s game. Players and parents have grown increasingly agitated with the school's response, the four people told USA TODAY Sports
Per Alcorn’s contract, it would owe South Alabama $360,000 in liquidated damages if the game isn’t played.
“We’re not going to put them on the field if we don’t think they’re safe,” one person said. “We, as a staff, aren’t going to do that.”