SEC firm on stance, in no rush

By: Bob Holt , Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, August 12, 2020
In this Dec. 5, 2014, file photo, SEC logo is displayed on the field ahead of the Southeastern Conference championship football game between Alabama and Missouri in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
In this Dec. 5, 2014, file photo, SEC logo is displayed on the field ahead of the Southeastern Conference championship football game between Alabama and Missouri in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

FAYETTEVILLE -- All eyes in college football turned to the three remaining Power 5 conferences -- the SEC, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences -- on Tuesday after the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced they were calling off all fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who has preached patience since the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, said his conference will not be rushed into making a decision on whether to play college football this fall.

"I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today," Sankey said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes.

"We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around covid-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day."

Sankey was interviewed Tuesday on "Good Morning America" by host T.J. Holmes, a West Memphis native and University of Arkansas graduate.

"You have to remember that our student-athletes really are in a bubble on our campuses," Sankey said when asked about the 11 SEC states being hot spots for the virus. "We have athletics programs with embedded health care professionals.

"We as a conference at each of our universities have taken this virus seriously from the beginning and the comparative is, should we simply let people out into society where we don't know whether they have covid or not?

"We've been involved in testing. We've been involved in care. We've been involved in following health policies continuously. And I think it's provided a healthy environment for young people."

Holmes asked Sankey about a timeline for making a decision on the football season, which for SEC teams is scheduled to start on Sept. 26 with the first of 10 conference games.

"We've been deliberate with our decision-making," Sankey said. "We've been thoughtful about what this entire summer may look like.

"We have moved the start of our season back ... because we're going to be continually monitoring what happens in our communities and our states.

"Our timeline is really based on the advice of a biostatistician, [who] way back in April said to me, 'Listen, this is a new virus. We have not been through this before. So the longer you take to make decisions, the better information you'll have available to make those decisions.'"

Sankey told ESPN that the SEC chancellors and presidents met Monday for an "informational conversation" about fall sports.

Asked if the SEC chancellors and presidents were meeting again on Thursday, Sankey said, "We'll let each day take care of itself right now."

The Atlantic Coast Conference will follow the SEC's lead, according to multiple reports Tuesday, while administrators at Big 12 schools appear divided on whether to play fall sports.

Sankey also appeared on the "Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday and was asked about the possibility of the SEC being the only Power 5 conference to play football this fall.

"I don't think that's the right direction, really," Sankey said. "Could we? Certainly. There's a difference between can you do something and should you do something in life.

"We've actually set up our schedule with our own health protocols. We could, if that's the circumstance, operate on our own. I'm not sure that's the wisest direction."

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron, whose Tigers won last season's College Football Playoff, appeared on Fox News to express support for playing football this fall.

"There is no Plan B here at LSU, man," Orgeron said. "We're going forward ahead.

"I do know this: The SEC is competing for our players to play. I do believe that we have the best protocol for our players. Our players feel safe on campus.

"We only have a few players that are sick right now. They get the best care. Our players want to play. I do believe the SEC wants to play."

Orgeron praised Sankey's leadership.

"I have to give it to our commissioner for waiting to get the most information and make the correct decision for our football team," Orgeron said. "And I do believe he will make that."

There has been some speculation about the possibility of schools from the Big Ten or Pac 12 that want to play football this fall being added to the SEC schedule.

"I don't sense that as a reality," Sankey told ESPN.

Orgeron said the SEC's conference only schedule will help protect the teams.

"We can control the testing. We can control the travel," Orgeron told Fox News. "I think that's a great idea. And I think the SEC is going to have a great plan for us to travel and for people coming over here.

"And when we do play the games, our players are going to be safe."

Sankey told ESPN the SEC's medical advisory group remains comfortable with the safety protocols put in place over the summer for workouts and practices.

"Were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point," Sankey said. "The indicators are we can right now do what we're doing in a healthy way."

Asked by ESPN what he would tell fans concerned about a college football season being played, Sankey said he would first tell them to slow the spread of the coronavirus by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

"I'd keep in mind we haven't made final, final decisions -- there is still some time -- but we've set a start date," Sankey said. "I'd be encouraged by that if I'm a college football fan.

"We've announced opponents. I'd be encouraged by that. We have some medical care guidelines. That's encouraging.

"We're still [here] today. On Sunday, it was all over if I read social media, but we're still here."

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