Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
SEC preparing contingency plans in case of further postponement
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, talks about the decision to cancel the remaining games in the SEC NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The conference tournament was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
FAYETTEVILLE SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Monday that the league office is focused on preparing for the 2020 fall sports season to be played as scheduled, but is in the early stages of developing contingency plans if coronavirus continues to postpone sporting events into the late summer months.
In an appearance on "The Paul Finebaum Show" on SEC Network, Sankey was asked how the virus might affect the scheduled SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., in May; SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta in July; and the start of the football season in September.
“What I’ve observed is that ‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly good answer right now,” Sankey said. “We can’t stay in ‘I don’t know,’ but we’re learning there is no manual for what we’re walking through.
“We follow the public health information and advice, and that’s changing rapidly and that’s part of the challenge.
“As I look to next season, our focus is on fully preparing. We have to adapt our preparation methods, and then we’re going to have to get through this current cycle of public health concerns.”
Sankey said it is too early to describe what contingency plans might look like, “but I think what we’ve experienced the last few weeks suggests we have a responsibility to prepare for a set of unknowns.”
Sankey’s comments came on the same day North Carolina coach Mack Brown said coaches "really have no clue” about the status of the 2020 football season.
In a teleconference with reporters, Brown said he is hopeful that college football teams will know by May 9 a plan for the upcoming season. That date is near the end of an eight-week isolation period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There is a fear of, ‘Would we have a season? Would we have a partial season? What does a partial season mean?’” Brown said. “There is a great concern because of the revenue that comes in with football.”
On Tuesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban appeared in a public service announcement that urged adherence to CDC distancing guidelines designed to slow the spread of the virus.
"We look forward to all that is to come, like the opportunity to play college football this fall," Saban said. "But the best and safest way to ensure that happens is to listen to the experts, follow their guidelines and take care of each other."
Last week the SEC canceled the remainder of its spring sporting seasons after the CDC recommended there be no mass gatherings in the U.S. for at least eight weeks. The CDC defined a mass gathering as more than 50 people.
The SEC’s shutdown, like other conferences, was for all team activities in all sports, effectively ending baseball, softball and track and field seasons for its teams. The shutdown also included the cancellation of spring football games.
The SEC has given itself an April 15 target date to reassess how the virus affects its teams. Until then, all team activities like practices, meetings and workouts are suspended.
Sankey indicated he is meeting on a call with SEC athletics directors each day. He said the calls have included conversations about the stoppage’s impact on out-of-season practices, eligibility and transfer matters, and academics at universities that have moved to online-only classes.
“As we consider what’s around us, the message is: we need to heed the public health warnings, we need to move through our current circumstances as appropriately and rapidly as possible,” Sankey said. “That allows us not to have to engage and throw a contingency plan, we hope. We want to see people healthy and we want to see a return to our normal operations.”
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