ATHENS — Greg Sankey provided a thorough update on where hopes and plans for college football currently rests from his perspective as the SEC commissioner.
Sankey admits there have been highs and lows while managing inherent challenges amid the COVID-19 environment.
The Big Ten’s decision on Tuesday to cancel its fall season certainly represents a low.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Sankey said during a Tuesday morning video on the Dan Patrick Show, hours before the official Big Ten shutdown. “We had some really healthy dialogue with athletics directors, and with our presidents and chancellors.
“Really, information, because we’ve made decisions to avoid some of the time pressures that I sense others are feeling.”
No doubt, the Big Ten leadership appeared compromised on Monday after anonymous sources leaked information. A Big Ten spokesperson debunked the reports, and coaches lobbied to continue their seasons even if the league presidents were to decide to fold.
Sunday afternoon and Monday morning were indeed dark times for collegiate football fans fearing a domino effect of conferences shutting down could take place.
“On Sunday it was all over if I read social media and lived by it, but we’re still here,” Sankey said. “We’re going to keep moving along because what has been told to me by young men on our teams, is they want an opportunity, they want a safe and healthy opportunity.”
Here are 3 takeaways from Sankey’s most recent update on SEC football.
No solo season for SEC
“I don’t think that’s the right direction, really,” Sankey said, asked if the SEC could be the only league to have a football season. “Could we? Certainly. So there’s a difference between could you do something and should you do something in life.
“We’re actually set up with our schedule and with our own health protocols that we could if that was the circumstance to operate on our own. I’m not sure that’s the wisest direction but there have been a lot of interesting things happened since March in college sports.”
SEC not adding teams
With Tuesday’s announcement that the Big Ten is in fact canceling, Sankey explained why it’s not likely the league adds any teams.
“We are focused on our 14 members and our 10 games,” Sankey said. “Because what we’ve really done is to create kind of a quasi-bubble on our campus for our teams to be healthy and supported really well, and a quasi bubble with our conference schedule.”
Players safer in football environment
“I certainly think we can make a case and have made a case that they’re in much more healthy situation working out in our facilities with medical care, with health protocols around COVID in this new environment,” Sankey said.
“Compared to go lift weights in local gyms with who knows overseeing you, what kind of health expectations, what kind of workouts, what kind of monitoring. I think that’s really, without a doubt, what we’re continuing to do is support the healthy return of competition.
“Our medical advisory group has said, ‘yes,’ we can continue to go forward, were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point. But the indicators are we can right now do what we’re doing in a heathy way, and we’re going to continue to consider that central issue — health — as we move forward with no assurances that that actually will take place.”
Optics not a concern
With the Big Ten becoming the third FBS conference to cancel fall football, Sankey was asked if he’s concerned about the optics if the SEC moves forward.
“In the Southeastern Conference we certainly compete, but we educate, we care and we support,” Sankey said. “If we cannot compete, we will educate, care and support. But we do that every day whether we compete or not, we’ve been doing it since March. And I think that message is clear right now. We’ve not been playing games, but we’ve been educating, caring and supporting.
“And I don’t think there’s quite the number of absolutes that perhaps others do in this world. We have never tried to do what we’re trying to do in a COVID environment, it’s simply another variable in a multivariable environment for us.
“Whatever we do we’re going to do safely, we’re going to do in the most healthy way possible That may mean some have to make decisions, whether it’s support, whether it’s the infrastructure they have. I think we have the capacity to support well.
“But again, we’re going to go day by day and make sure that’s in place, because fundamentally while we want to compete we’re not gong to walk away from educating, caring and supporting young people.”
Priorities eliminated rivalry games
“Difficult part of the COVID process, we lost a basketball tournament, a baseball season, a softball won, we lost Arkansas-Notre Dame, Texas-LSU and we lost traditional rivalries,” Sankey explained. “But again, in looking really objectively and then to ask, ‘What can we do to control our abilities to play a season?’ We prioritized a conference championship and thought we also want to provide student-athletes with a quality SEC experience.
“So that was the pivot to 10 conference-only games. A,recognition that there may be disruption and the feel that we could in that quasi-bubble mentality have better control, and better be able to complete an entire season this way. Tough decisions, but we’ve been making tough decisions since March 11 around college athletics.