It’s the biggest story in sports, and at this point, the only story that matters if you’re a college football fan. It is the ongoing saga in the Big Ten. Just a few days after the Big Ten triumphantly released their entire schedule on Wednesday, the league appears set on canceling the season over fear of coronavirus.
At this point, following the story is exhausting, with seemingly a new twist and turn every step of the way. We heard reports that it was on the brink of happening Sunday night, that a vote has already been made, that a vote hasn’t been made, that a final decision will come tonight. It has led some of the most prominent players in the sport coming out in college football’s defense. Even coaches, normally afraid to go against the status quo, are speaking up publicly.
So yeah, college sports is a complete cluster (what else is new!). Yet even as the Big Ten goes through some very public infighting, it appears as though logic has come to college football. It has come in the voice and tweets of Greg Sankey, who is largely looking at the Big Ten, shaking his head and saying “Guys, what’s the rush?”
Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: “Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.” @SEC has been deliberate at each step since March…slowed return to practice…delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester..
— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) August 10, 2020
…Deveoped testing protocols…We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so…every day.
— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) August 10, 2020
To be abundantly clear, those tweets don’t mean that we are 100 percent, definitely getting SEC football this fall. But if you were looking for a positive sign, this was it. Much like when they play on the football field, it doesn’t feel as though the SEC is going to be bullied by the Big Ten.
Those tweets from Sankey wrapped up a wild couple of hours of speculation on what the SEC might do, but if you were looking for positive signs, they were there all along. Even dating back to the reports from Sunday night, it appeared as though the Big Ten’s very public leak of information was strategic. Essentially, it appears as though the Big Ten tried to rally all five Power 5 conferences to make the announcement together. While it wasn’t explicitly stated, implicitly it seems pretty clear: They didn’t want to be the public bad guy, and wanted everyone to come along with them to avoid blame. The fact that the Big Ten didn’t come out of that call announcing a cancelation of football was a great thing. The fact that the other Power 5’s refused to even get on the same page as the Big Ten was another positive step.
Other reports have trickled out all day, indicating the same. Dan Patrick said on Monday morning that while the Big Ten and Pac-12 appear to set to pull out of a fall football season, the SEC, Big 12 and ACC appear to be holding their ground. Similar reports have come out all day, with – of all people – Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield publicly saying that he has heard from the ACC to keep pushing forward.
Satterfield said as of this morning he was told the ACC is moving forward no matter what other conferences do.
"That's what we will do until we hear otherwise."
— Cameron Teague (@cj_teague) August 10, 2020
Really though, Monday’s tweet bomb from Greg Sankey just reaffirms how strong his leadership has been from the beginning and how he has largely – in the absence of Mark Emmert – become the face of college football over the last six months. Trevor Lawrence may have taken over some of that title in the last day or so, but it has largely been Sankey serving as the voice of reason in these uncertain times.
Really, every decision that Sankey has made the last six months has been reflected in his tweets this afternoon: Calm and calculated. Yes, there are various factors at play. And yes, maybe this will all end with the reality that it’s impossible to play football. But if we don’t get SEC football this fall, it won’t be because Sankey didn’t pursue every avenue to safely get it on the field.
First of all, there was the official announcement a few weeks back that the league would go to a conference-only schedule and not play any games until September 26th. When that move was first announced, I’m guessing we were all a little bummed that we wouldn’t get SEC football until the end of September.
At the same time, the logic made sense: With students returning to campus in coming weeks and mingling with the football team, chances were pretty good that there would be an uptick in positive cases inside the football facility. Yes, this virus is scary. But that was an inevitable reality. So why not wait a few extra weeks, and see how the transition back to campus went? Maybe football would ultimately prove unplayable. But the SEC basically said “We want as much time as possible to find out” when pushing back the start date to September 26th.
To me, that September 26th start date was interesting. While the Big Ten idiotically put out an updated schedule last week with games planned for September 5th (why, Big Ten, why!?) the SEC still, even now, has six weeks until their first kickoff. Last night I explained why it didn’t make sense to push the season back a full month, only to cancel the whole thing without even one padded practice to see how it all worked out.
Apparently Sankey agreed.
Beyond that, there was also last Friday. Remember that glorious, magical day? When the SEC went out of its way to turn “putting an extra two games on the schedule” into a “TV extravaganza.” You think the league would go through all that trouble, just to cancel a few days later? Me neither.
Again, to be abundantly, absolutely clear, I am not in any way promising SEC football.
But, much like players and coaches, it appears as though the conference is ready to go down swinging to make it happen. And they’re led by the calmest voice in college football right now. Greg Sankey.
(For more on last night’s insanity, download today’s Aaron Torres podcast below)