Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
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Time ticking on sticky football season plans
A football rests on a pylon before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Georgia and Alabama, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Rutgers and Michigan State did more quarantining of athletes over the weekend as the days are closing quickly on the Southeastern Conference’s decision about the upcoming football season.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has met numerous times with medical experts, athletic directors and presidents and chancellors.
Whatever he announces at the end of the week, if it comes then, will not be predicated by what any other conference is doing.
The Pac-12 and Big Ten said weeks ago they would play a conference only schedule.
Word has leaked the ACC is considering 10 conference games and perhaps one nonconference game.
That seems like a bold ambition right now.
This country went into a near panic back in March and April when coronavirus cases in the South were averaging far below 100 a day.
Today, it is a celebration if there are fewer than 500 new cases in a day.
This virus is peaking, and it would take a drastic drop in numbers to think the first weekend in September is a good time to start playing college football.
That certainly doesn’t mean there won’t be a season, just a different one.
There are all types of proposals on social media, but one constant is if there is a season, the bulk of it will be conference games.
An eight-game SEC schedule of conference opponents only should make ESPN very happy but leave fans of Florida State-Florida, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson disappointed.
Unless the SEC has a plus-one schedule, too.
Although it might secretly delight South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp who is coming off a 4-8 season and has to be solidly on the hot seat if he didn’t have to play Clemson.
Yet, it is hard for the industry-leading broadcast giant to get excited about showing Arkansas hosting Charleston Southern.
The only folks watching that game are fans of those two schools.
Having watched some sporting events on TV that has no fans, that should be avoided if possible.
Not saying sell every seat, but getting 25,000 or 30,000 into a 75,00-seat stadium should be doable.
The last few years, late in many Razorbacks games, only 5,000 or so remained, and they could be very loud, so having 30,000 would add atmosphere.
Of course, social distancing and masks would be required, and a lot of details would have to be worked out on having concession stands.
One thing is certain: If four of the Power 5 conferences decide to play football it will quickly become 5-5.
This epidemic isn’t going to last forever, and recruiting will go on.
A league taking a year off while the others play would find themselves behind the recruiting eight ball.
If the SEC plays eight conference games and a championship game, it could start the season in late September or early October and still be done before Christmas shopping begins other than the day after Thanksgiving.
If there is a disadvantage for playing just conference games that belongs to Arkansas and Vanderbilt, which are trying to rebuild winning programs, and that’s hard when you face Alabama, LSU, Auburn or Georgia, Florida and even Tennessee.
The SEC Western Division is the toughest in the country.
Whichever way the SEC powers are leaning, we should know in a week or so.
The main thing for the fans to remember is it will most likely just be one season.
Vaccinations against covid-19 are coming, probably by the first of the year, and like so many other illnesses before this one, it will eventually be eradicated.
For now, the health of the student-athletes is the No. 1 priority, but everyone knows how much this country needs sports right now.
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