Expect a pretty empty student section at the Auburn-Tennessee game. And, sadly, expect the media to blame student apathy.
Give the students a break. Blame lies with the Southeastern Conference.
A welcomed break
This weekend is fall break; Auburn does not have class on Thursday or Friday. It's a fairly recent schedule addition--previously, students, and faculty, endured a long journey from the early-semester Labor Day holiday to the late-semester Thanksgiving break. It was a grind for everyone.
In 2015, Auburn instituted a two-day fall break, to much rejoicing. The football schedule included either off weeks or away games (and an off week next year as well).
This year, however, the SEC scheduled Auburn-Tennessee for that weekend. More recently, Auburn basketball added the Tip-Off at Toomer's, which filled the Thursday of the break and gave students an attractive distraction. That has been canceled by Hurricane Michael-related concerns.
So now, students who have just completed midterms (all the time knowing that a rapidly developing hurricane would pass through the neighboring states and affect southeastern Alabama) will likely prefer to go home for the four-day.
As we look ahead, we can expect broadcasters and sportswriters alike to decry the emptier-than-normal student section and draw conclusions that blame student apathy and disappointment with the team's performance.
You won't even have to wait until Saturday. SEC Nation is planning to broadcast from the site, in part drawn by the now-canceled Tip-Off at Toomer's.
They deserve it
I wonder how many within the media will lay blame not with the students, but with the SEC for forcing students into a choice with a false level of significance. Given the first three letters in their names, I would not expect much criticism from either Network or Nation.
We are in a time when context is an annoyance and Millennials a favorite target for whatever they're blamed with killing, so I expect the hot-take artists to be in attack mode. The students deserve better.
They deserve a two-day break following midterms, and the SEC should have respected that in setting the schedule. Moving the break back a week to accommodate the Tennessee game ignores its timing, immediately after exams.
Beyond that, the students deserve to be more than a convenient means to a click-baiting media end. They have reasons for missing the game that relate more to decisions out of their control, and media members who gloss over their own slacker days should remember that before laying on the "when I was in college" revisionism.
One small mercy is that blame will in part focus on the team's bad loss to Mississippi State, so that the students themselves will not be the only target. Still it won't eliminate it.
SEC, please note
Perhaps more students than expected will turn out on Saturday. If so, I hope that is acknowledged.
But on Saturday, even if the media members don't, give the students a break. And SEC, please do the same for all conference university students.
John Carvalho is a professor of journalism at Auburn. He discusses sports media issues on Twitter at @John_P_Carvalho.