All summer, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has maintained that the league would not decide the fate of the 2020 college football season until late July. In an interview this morning, Sankey even put that deadline into question as the league continues to monitor the coronavirus.
“I set a timeline based on what I saw in May as factors,” Sankey said on The Dan Patrick Show. “That timeline is gone. So, we’ll actually go to next week and have a really important check-in point, but I’m now not of the opinion that I have to make a decision then, which that will be news right there. ‘Wow, they may not make a decision,’ but this whole thing is fluid, so the ability to make sure we’re treating people well, supporting their health and safety, that’s a guide, that’s right where you and I started today. We’ll convene over the next couple of weeks and then we’ll go potentially into the next stage of practice.”
On Friday, teams will transition from eight hours per week of strength workouts and film study to two 20-hour weeks of enhanced training, including walk-throughs with a ball. From there, preseason camp will begin on August 7. Sankey said that although the league has done a good job preventing the spread of the virus thus far, what happens in the next few weeks as activities ramp up and more people arrive on campus will be critical.
“Our feedback has been, the time that we can oversee people we feel good about it. It’s the other part of life that we’ve got to continue to manage, particularly as our campus communities fill up.”
Last Monday, Sankey and the league’s 14 athletic directors met in person at the league offices in Birmingham to discuss scenarios for the 2020 season, not all of them positive.
“There was a significant element in that conversation that was sobering,” he admitted. “It was a realization of what is happening around us, of the decisions that are coming. Not that there hadn’t been attention to that, but when you get in a room with all of your colleagues and you start walking through the different decisions to be made, I think that’s sobering for everyone.”
The Big 10 and Pac-12 have already moved to conference-only schedules for the 2020 season, but Sankey said he’s still hopeful the league can work something out with the ACC and Big 12.
“My inclination is not to just run off and play our own football. I think our connection [to other conferences] is important but yet, some of that may be dictated by the decisions around COVID and the different circumstances. We’ll try to be patient.”
Other options on the table include delaying the start of the season or even pushing it to the spring, which Sankey said is a last resort.
“Here’s the reality. You sit down and you say, you’d like to start the season as scheduled. Parts of that have evaporated for us. We lost two Pac-12 games. And then you get down and you say, if you can’t play as scheduled, what can you do in that same time frame? I’ve not walked away from non-conference games, so to our earlier conversation, is that 12 games, is that 11 games, is that 10 games? Is that some conference games plus non-conference games? And then, if you have to delay the start, those last options are there. Is there an opportunity to still play some non-conference games in the fall with our conference schedule or do you beef up your conference schedule and play that with the thought there would be disruption. And then you work through all those and you keep [the option of] spring there because we haven’t been able to predict a whole lot but that’s not a focal point for us.”
For now, Sankey is monitoring the return of professional sports, namely limited crowds at NASCAR events, which could provide a blueprint for fans at football games this fall. With preseason camp not set to begin until August 7, he believes time is still on the league’s side.
“July is a really important learning experience in the Southeastern Conference to help guide us in our decision making,” he said. “We’ve been working, and my line has been, I’m going to be prepared to play as scheduled and then we’re going to have to adapt to the circumstances around the virus and that adaptation continues.”
You can see the entire interview below.