College football will be back, though the particulars remain a wait-and-see topic for Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey.
Amid the overwhelming national uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affecting daily life across the world, Sankey expressed hope there could be a return to some semblance of normalcy beginning in the Fall, especially as it relates to SEC football.
“Our focus is on preparing for the 2020-21 academic year, the fall seasons, as currently scheduled,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters. “We’ll obviously think about everything going forward because we’re being guided by public health information and decision making. But my hope is we can return to our normal, organized activities, our normal experiences and be part of that celebration around soccer, volleyball, cross country and football in the fall. But we’ll have to see.”
Football in the fall has long been a staple of college athletics, especially within the SEC's footprint, and Sankey remains optimistic there will be no change to the upcoming 2020 season set to begin in September.
"That's my focus. I'm a half-full perspective person, so I have optimism," Sankey said. "We have taken measures, as have our colleague conferences, at this time, I think if I read those health leaders, they say we'll have a period of time where we'll see what happens with the growth of these (COVID-19) cases and we'll make decisions down the road. For me, my responsibility is to continue to support the public health decision-making but also to be prepared to do our work assigned to us. ... But as we adjust to this new normal, we're going to be thinking about a lot of things."
Sankey spoke with reporters for more than 40 minutes Wednesday morning, a day after the league announced the cancellation of the remainder of the conference’s spring sports athletic competitions through the rest of the 2019-20 academic calendar. That decision noticeably did not include spring football practices, which remain on hold at least until the lifting of the SEC’s suspension of all organized activities through April 15 announced late last week.
That said, Sankey cautioned that the suspension of organized activities could be pushed back even further depending on any future recommendations made by either the NCAA or the national government health officials.
“We have said no athletic activities through April 15. That doesn’t mean we’ll be back to normal or practice activities April 16; it was just a date certain that allows our administrators to communicate with our coaches, our coaches with their student athletes as a result in their departures from campus,” Sankey said. “If you look at the national public messaging about no gatherings above 50, it’s certainly difficult to conduct any football practice under that limitation, and even smaller numbers have been communicated — 10 is often referenced. ... I’m not going to be overly optimistic about the return to practice. We haven’t fully foreclosed on that opportunity, but I think practically that window’s pretty narrow.”
One day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the public at large not participate in gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks in order to further stem the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump reduced that figure to 10 or fewer in newly-stated guidelines Monday.
Sankey remains confident SEC football teams will be afforded some sort of preparation opportunity before preseason practice resuming in August.
“If we’re not able to practice further this spring, I’m confident that we’ll be seeking opportunities to make sure our teams are adequately prepared heading into the season,” Sankey said. “Elements of that are going to be guided by the public health realities in front of us. … I expect we’ll have a smaller group from our campuses examine issues around out-of-season practice in football, in soccer and in volleyball to think about, as we turn the page, head to the next chapter of 2021, given what’s occurred, the disruptions that’s occurred, how do we best allow our teams and support our teams in preparation.
“I don’t mean to be obtuse in that answer. It’s just we’re dealing a lot of these undefined circumstances. But just know, on our mind, is how do we help our teams adequately prepare in advance of a fall season.”