Greg Sankey: SEC title game date might change, spring football not a priority
ATHENS — SEC commissioner Greg Sankey made clear he’s still aiming for a season that starts on time and can be played in its entirety while also acknowledging the harsh realities COVID-19 presents.
“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 elements collegiate football faces amid the pandemic.
Among the topics was the potential for a spring football season should a fall season not be deemed possible.
“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 the saga of former Alabama quarterback and Miami Dolphins’ first-round NFL draft pick Tua Tagovailoa as one example of why spring football wouldn’t be optimal.
“You look at Tua last year, that’s a really good example to illustrate,” Sankey said, agreeing that some high profile players would opt out of participating.
“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 key points Sankey touched on:
Pro leagues, key factors
Sankey said he’s observing the return of the NFL, Major League Baseball and even post-race numbers 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.”
SEC title game, interpreting numbers
Sankey said moving back the SEC Championship Game, currently scheduled for Dec. 5, could make sense.
“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.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced last week they would play conference-only games, in part to provide some flexibility to their schedules.
Sankey and the SEC leaders are not ready to take that step. Moving the league title game could provide flexibility without having to take such a drastic scheduling move.
Sankey also said it’s also important to sort through COVID-19 statistics.
“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.”
Football psyche importance
Sankey said there is an economic reality to the football season, but it only goes so far and the health and welfare of the student-athletes trumps all financial considerations.
The importance of sports to the student-athletes’ psyche and determination to pursue and attain their dreams hits close to home with the commissioner.
“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 Marchm when we stopped things, one of the heaviest weights for me was, we just disrupted a young person’s foundation and their rhythm.”
Indeed, there would be several unintended consequences if there are no collegiate sports this fall.
The issues would range far and wide, beginning with depression among a large segment of the American population along with a spike in the unemployment numbers in and around the sports industry.
But closer to home, Sankey’s focused concerns would be on the depression and loss of opportunities among student athletes. Further, the world-class health care and intense monitoring and testing would not be the same for the student-athletes outside of the athletic department and supervised 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.”
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