ATHENS — SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said there would be “a bit of room” in the decision making for a college football season that could feature some conference teams playing but not others.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought society to a standstill, triggering unprecedented social distancing and quarantine measures that have shut down businesses and put the sports world on hold.
Collegiate sports faces challenges that professional sports leagues do not. Two of the bigger issues involve student-athletes’ amateur status, and the tie-in with on-campus education.
Sankey, appearing on Knoxville radio station WNML (990 AM, 99.1 FM) on Friday afternoon, said there’s no reason to get into too many hypothetical discussions with so much time left before the start of the season.
RELATED: 3 key points with Greg Sankey on return of football season
“We’re being told that by 30 days from now, you’re going to have better information,” Sankey said on WNML. “So be careful about decision making, give yourselves time, football season is roughly 135 or 140 days away.”
A conference call between the College Football Playoff management committee and Vice President Mike Pence seemed to indicate college football will not return until students are back on campus.
That concept created a great deal of stress. It’s up to each state’s governor to determine when quarantine measures can be relaxed to the point of in-person classes being back in session.
RELATED: CFP committee hammers on-campus point home to VP
What if the state of California — home to four of the dozen Pac-12 schools — were to hold out and not allow students back on campus until January?
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated earlier this week that sporting events might not resume in the city before 2021, during a CNN interview.
Sankey provided some background on that scenario, while stressing this remains a fluid situation. Sankey said his focus continues to be on being prepared for football season to begin on Labor Day weekend.
Here are four key points from Sankey’s interview with Knoxville’s WNML:
Could there be a football season with some, but not all, conferences playing?
“If there is one small niche that’s inactive, but perhaps the entire Southeastern Conference and others are able to function, that’s one of those hypotheticals we don’t have to answer right now,” Sankey said. “But you would think there would be a bit of room in that decision making.”
Sankey pointed out the autonomy leagues had during their respective conference tournaments in March, and how that could serve as a precedent.
“If you look back, when we were trying to decide how to approach basketball tournaments, each of those decisions was an independent decision by conference,” Sankey said. “You saw the Ivy League make a decision on a Tuesday, (and) we made a decision to cancel our event based on new information on Thursday morning.
“There’s probably a lesson or an example that in fact we are independent entities,” he said. “There’s a lot of conversation among the autonomy conferences, us, the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac 12, and the preference would be to go down a road together.
“The NCAA has a football oversight committee, they have others active in thinking about this.”
Sankey is making it a point to know his business while keeping an eye on others. Sankey has daily conference calls with SEC athletic directors and weekly sessions with SEC presidents and chancellors.
“Playing it forward, we had an hour-and-half long call with ADs and one of their homework assignments is to bring back on Monday a clear description of the status in their state,” Sankey said.
“We are in times filled of having to make decisions in front of you that we’ve never really anticipated … we’ve had to build the bridge as we cross the river and write the manual as we’re doing so,” he said.
“That kind of leads us to today, where we are able to continue the conversation, we look forward to the future, (and) we think about what might the summer look like.”
Fans in the stands
As for when football will return with fans in the stands, Sankey made it clear he’s not ready to answer that question.
“The beauty of April 17th is I don’t have to answer that question right now, and one of the great learning experiences that I have enjoyed, if there’s such thing as enjoying the last 30 days is how much we’ve learned over that period of time as we’ve talked to researchers and physicians,” Sankey said.
“Their positions have been, ‘We’ve learned a lot, we will learn a lot (more), and you should wait to make major decisions. So I’ve avoided the hypotheticals and tried to prepare for what’s in front of me right now.”
Sankey’s focus is more on how sports will look once they are back on campus amid a new normal.
“Campuses are certainly the host, and one of the things we learned in mid-March is our campuses took different approaches initially to adjustments,” Sankey said. “So I think fundamentally activity on our campuses is one of the important steps we’ll take to bring back college football, college soccer, college volleyball or whatever it may be.
“One of the questions we have to answer with this asset of time right now is, what does campus activity look like in the future.”
SEC Media Days
“We’ve got a team working on media days, and their focus is on preparation, each of those teams as scheduled, and then we go into contingency thinking,” Sankey said.
“So if we can’t gather together in mid-July, which I think we’re about 85 days away, so again I have space to make those decisions, but we want to continue to prepare, both for what we want to happen, and then, be guided by circumstance and information, if we have to adjust, we’ll be ready.”