The past few days, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has made it known that he is still hopeful that the season can happen on time and be played as a whole. Nevertheless, he is also recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic presents some harsh realities that he might have to accept.
“It’s a bit like running out a ground ball,” Sankey said during a Wednesday appearance on Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio Show. “You’re gonna run it out as hard as you can and see what happens, and so that’s the mentality.”
Sankey addressed several topics that college football currently faces during the height of the pandemic. Among the subject matter discussed was the potential for a spring football season if the fall season plans slip through the cracks.
“If circumstances dictated, I’m not going to take that completely off the table, but it’s certainly not on the list of priority points at this point,” Sankey said. “But I don’t think we have the luxury given what’s happened in our environment, in our culture, to just say, ‘No,’ to some options.
“I want to be abundantly clear, because I know what happens on social media. Is it on the list? Yep, always has been. Is it a priority on that list? No, I think we have other priorities before we get there.”
Sankey used former Alabama quarterback and current Miami Dolphins’ first-round draft pick Tua Tagovailoa as a prime example of why playing a spring season wouldn’t be ideal.
“You look at Tua last year, that’s a really good example to illustrate,” Sankey said, as he agreed that some players would rather not participate. “His injury was in the second week of November, and yet he’s able to have great medical support, surgery with world leaders (and) rehab … and he’s the fifth pick in the draft. That would be a tough comparative with spring football with high level players, so they’d all have to go through a decision-making process.”
Here are some other subjects Sankey talked about:
Possibility of change of date for SEC title game
Sankey touched on possibly moving back the SEC Championship game, which is currently slated to be played on Dec. 5.
“I thought maybe we have to delay the timing of our championship game later in December, so that’s on the list of alternatives,” Sankey said. “To create space if you have to move a (regular season) game because of disruption. But that is one of 10 possibilities. We want to be wise about how we move forward, but we also have to think through contingencies.”
Last week, the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced that they would be playing conference-only games. Which in turn could give the teams a more flexible schedule.
Sankey said earlier this week that the SEC and its athletic directors are not ready to make that decision just quite yet. But moving the league’s title game could provide some openness without having to make such a extreme scheduling move.
He also mentioned that the COVID-19 statistics are the most important thing to consider when making a decision.
“It impacts our thinking, just to see the variety of numbers, but part of the challenge has been to understand and interpret the numbers,” Sankey said.
“Like this (Wednesday) morning at 4 a.m., I’m watching CNN and there’s a story about children don’t spread (COVID-19) like two months ago, when we thought they could be super spreaders,” he said. “I’m not a scientist, so I have to go back and ask people ‘what does that really mean?’ And that’s an example that all the information is important. But at some point all of us in sports, we have to make judgments and decisions based on the best available information.”
Pro sports leading the way
Sankey said he’s been watching the return of the NFL, MLB and even post-race statistics from the Nascar event in Tennessee on Wednesday.
“I have a stack of information probably six inches deep of information,” Sankey said. “NASCAR, NFL, PGA Tour, NBA, all of these protocols, because it is learning opportunities.
“Our cues, candidly, are what our health circumstances, what state and local health officials indicate, what our medical advisory group indicates, (and) the ability of young people to stay healthy during the on-campus activities we’ve been supporting since June 8, which has happened.
“We always knew there would be positive tests. But can you identify, isolate, keep people healthy and then reduce the spread of the virus, which is what’s been happening. That’s the need, and that’s what we need in society, as well.”
Health and welfare of student athletes
Sankey said that there is also an economic reality that college football might have to face because the health and well-being of student-athletes is more important than anything financial.
“The psyche part is interesting, because when we started talking with coaches and even student athletes, they said, ‘I need you to give me hope that somebody is out there working every day to give me an opportunity to get back to the life I understood was normal,’ “ Sankey said. “In March when we stopped things, one of the heaviest weights for me was, we just disrupted a young person’s foundation and their rhythm.”
Of course, there will be several unintentional consequences if there are no college sports this fall. No season for college athletes could spark a number of issues, but also with the population that follows the sports as well.
But for Sankey, he’s merely focused about what the student athletes would suffer if there are no sports. It could lead to cases of depression and loss of opportunities that they wouldn’t have elsewhere. Also, the first-class health care and increased monitoring and testing would not be the same for athletes outside of their athletic departments and team activities.
“My mindset (is) about trying to keep the psyche positive with young people, who want these opportunities, and that’s part of the role,” Sankey said. “But I’m yet at the point where I know what’s going to happen this fall.”