Blake Dowling: Back to school

Young people with face masks back at work or school in office after lockdown.
College is more than classes.

Dad and I were in Alaska the summer “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Back to School” came out.

We had been in the boonies for a while, whitewater rafting, becoming one with nature, so on and so forth.

When we got back to an actual town, we hit the theater for a double feature. Dad gave Ferris an “F” but kudos to him for sitting through it, like when we recently saw “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He also gave that an “F,” except for liking the talking fox.

Family bonding, Alaska version, with me and Pops.

What dad did enjoy was “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield. Who wouldn’t?

Rodney was a master, at the top of his game, with a supporting cast that included, Sam Kinison, and frickin’ Kurt Vonnegut (in a classic scene).

That was the only film I saw with that legend in real-time. I was a little too young when “Caddyshack” and “Easy Money” were in theaters.

What a star, when The Melons and Robert Downey Jr. crash into their newly renovated and customized dorms, it sends a chill down my spine as college memories come crashing back.

While we didn’t have Oingo Boingo at our fraternity house, we did have Sister Hazel and Big Sky; what fun.

The Gainesville (and Florida) music scene of the time often featured Tabatha’s Secret (who would become Matchbox 20), Creed, For Squirrels, Less than Jake, DingoFish, What it is (one of the greats, their shows were as wild as they come) and Big White Undies.

It made for an awesome night of music every night of the week.

Also, from the national scene: Dave Matthews Band, The Samples, Floyd’s Funk Revival, The Connells, Hootie, Widespread Panic, Edwin McCain, Jack O. Pierce, Gov’t Mule, Allgood, and many others regularly gigged in Gainesville. It was quite a music scene (and an important part of the collegiate experience).

In my case, part of my college experience was meeting musicians, booking agents, and club owners and booking shows of my own at our fraternity house. It led to a job in the biz right out of college.

Here is a nice tribute to that town from the duke of the Gainesville music scene, Mr. Tom Petty:

(Here is a great read on one of Gainesville best music venues, Green Day and Dave Matthews played here and I saw the second one, amazing show.)

With 2020 relentlessly pounding us still with seemingly endless shocking news, what are the college students of today going to experience when they return to school?

An old poster for Less than Jake at the epic Covered Dish music venue.

They will not be packing the bars to see the next Hootie or Creed, but they will have their own unique journey — one that our state’s schools are working feverishly to get ready.

Florida Tech in Melbourne announced its back-to-school plan a few days ago. I spoke to Adam from their communications team and they are very proud of what they are rolling out and they call it the Florida Tech Safe plan.

Masks on, single dorm occupancy, are among the items they are implementing.

According to its newsroom website, Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay said in a letter announcing the plan to the campus community:  “I am pleased to report that the team has drafted a comprehensive plan that prioritizes student, faculty and staff health while also maintaining the flexibility that will be required to deal with evolving circumstances,” Read the full article here.

Just two weeks ago, Florida’s university system Board of Governors voted to approve each school’s back-to-campus plan. The Team at Flagler Live put them all in one place for easy access.

You can read each school’s 25-page plan (if you wish), but the bottom line is lots of masks, small occupancy in dorms, remote class, some in-person learning, common areas closed, or at minimal occupancy and no large crowds.

This does not bode well for sports fans who at this point are slowly concluding that a normal fall football season is looking like a 100-1 play.

I have watched several PGA and NASCAR events lately and I do not think the crowd-free model is going to fly for college football.

Of course, this is only my opinion; I want it to happen, but how do you cut attendance in half?

How do you lottery off tickets for 50% capacity? Would that be enough spacing to meet CDC guidelines?

At some Florida schools in recent years, it looks like the fans are already social distancing (please, no attendance jokes about certain schools in our state. We are keeping it serious today. No respect, I tell ‘ya).

Also, would people wear masks in the stands without passing out? There are already heat issues in the first game or two all-around our state.

I saw a horserace Saturday (Belmont) and an owner was filmed wearing the mask on his head until he saw the camera and put it on properly.

Yes, I watch horse races now. Fun stuff. Anyway, place your bets.

Speaking of good bets (and moving away from academia for a minute), I spoke with Brian Edwards, the sports managing editor at here in Florida. I was looking for an expert opinion about college football and what may (or may not) happen in our state this fall.

“I still think we’re going to have a season, especially at the schools that are in Power Five programs,” Edwards told me. “Now, if new cases continue to rise over the next 2-3 weeks, we could see a decision to push the season back a bit by the end of July. I think all options are still on the table — starting the season on time, pushing it back a month or two or pushing it all the way into the spring.”

“If the season indeed starts on time, it’s going to be a wild one,” he added. “Players are going to continue to test positive and when they do, they’ll be out at least 10-14 days. Therefore, you’re going to have some teams get lucky and be able to face superior opponents that might be without their star QB and/or 5-6 starters.”

Edwards’ point: “For those that like to make wagers, COVID-19 information is going to become more important than injuries.”

“As long as players continue to recover without needing trips to the hospital or the use of ventilators,” he added, “I think the season will go on as planned, albeit where schools have to deal with missing players (due to COVID-19 positive tests) regularly. Now what could change things is any player dying or a coach in his 50s or 60s passing away after contracting the virus. If something like that happens, the media will pounce, and the criticism might become too loud for the season to continue. That’s the big fear. Barring that, we’ll have football, although it’s probably going to be a season that will always have an asterisk attached to it.”

Thank you, Brian; you can check out the sports news you need on Twitter at @vegasbedwards and I have done some writing for his team as well.

The Major Wager Team doing Strategic Planning with the Dowling Consulting Team and friends.

Back to the college campus. I reached out to Madeline Pumariega, Executive VP and Provost at Tallahassee Community College and she shared their planning efforts:

“TCC appointed the reSTART reIMAGINE task force that developed a series of recommendations for the return of the Fall term. One of the recommendations was for the College to continue to explore new and creative ways to deliver classes in a variety of alternative modes using hybrid formats.

“The College has developed a variety of face-to-face, LIVE and online course offerings for students to select from. We have reconfigured our classrooms to ensure that have adjusted capacity in order to meet the physical distancing recommendations of the CDC.

“We will make face coverings available for faculty, staff and students to ensure that we continue to prioritize the safety and health of our college community.”

TCC’s plan is here.

Technology makes it possible for remote learning, so parents and kids are asking the question: why should I go back to college to learn remotely?

I believe the answer is simple — college is more than classes.

In fact, for some of us (me), I don’t think I went to any classes my sophomore year (we could watch them on VHS tape, the amazing technology of the 90s).

The college experience was about learning how to be on your own. Preparing meals, navigating a schedule, getting a job, making new friends, getting involved in something, whether it was Hare Krishna, student government or a vibrant music scene (as mentioned above), it’s all about finding your place in the world. There is no way to do that from your parent’s basement.

If you have to have remote classes for a while, go ahead and do it, study in the library, get out there and prepare for the inevitable real world and the triple lindy of life that awaits.

Thanks to careful planning by so many around our state, it’s time to get back to school (as long as we can do it safely).

And that is great news for students.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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