I read your story about the disappointment on the part of UGA alums who were unhappy with the scheduling of homecoming on Yom Kippur. Even though I attended a university outside the region, I understand their anger and disappointment. At the same time, I think there are important unreported story elements and a larger missed opportunity.
The unreported elements begin with when did UGA officials realize that they had made a serious error as it relates to their Jewish alums. Also, what options did they have at the time of discovery? Football schedules, especially at large universities like UGA, are determined several years in advance. Homecoming, of course, will vary. The ugly reality is that homecoming is usually scheduled against a division foe against whom a home team is normally expected to win. That’s true of many schools.
I don’t know when the game was designated as a homecoming game but my sense is that it would have been known probably in January or February of 2014. Why was not there some proactive work done by folks in the Jewish community (more about this below) to determine when Yom Kippur would fall during the football season? I did not even read about protests until the beginning of September, and sadly, that’s too late for any meaningful action to take place in the same season.
So how does this get prevented in future years? My sense is that it requires an institutional solution and my nomination for the best positioned party would be the ADL, which does a great job of providing public education about Jewish issues. One of those elements is providing the respective schools with a Jewish calendar. Because ADL’s mission covers the whole Southeast, there many, many universities with football programs and Jewish students. Just to consider Georgia alone, it could include schools like UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Kennesaw (program begins play in 2015), Mercer, Valdosta State, Georgia Southern, and possibly others depending on where there might be existing Hillel chapters. Replicate that number over different states – Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee and you’ve got a large coordination job ahead of you.
I realize that ADL may be resource challenged and may not be able to manage this activity directly or easily. One way to work around this limitation would be to recruit alums from the various universities with sizeable (to be defined) Jewish populations and football programs. The alums could work with the local campus Hillel chapter to coordinate with a school’s decision makers. That will vary from school to school but would usually include folks like the Chancellor or President of a university and the Athletic Director’s office. The advantages of this approach is that it doesn’t create additional overhead for ADL and it enables alums to remain engaged with their alma maters on matters that are important to them. To the degree that current students are involved, it provides them valuable life lessons on how to work with large organizations. And through it all, alumni and students come to realize the value of what ADL has to offer.
The damage this year is already done as UGA has learned. The next shoe to fall for them is the awkwardness of their alumni fundraisers in approaching Jewish alums who are understandably unhappy with their alma mater at this point. The larger question remains how this situation can be avoided at UGA and other schools in the future?