SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is not optimistic about the fate of the upcoming college football season, and he’s not sugar-coating his feelings.
Sankey, in an interview with ESPN Radio on Saturday morning, said his concern level about the season is “high to very high” and that “we are running out of time to correct and get things right.” Sankey also lamented the politicalization of proactive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
"We put a medical advisory group together in early April with the question, 'What do we have to do to get back to activity?' and they've been a big part of the conversation," Sankey said. "But the direct reality is not good and the notion that we've politicized medical guidance of distancing, and breathing masks, and hand sanitization, ventilation of being outside, being careful where you are in buildings. There's some very clear advice about — you can't mitigate and eliminate every risk, but how do you minimize the risk? ... We are running out of time to correct and get things right, and as a society we owe it to each other to be as healthy as we can be."
After the interview, Sankey doubled-down on Twitter, saying “we need to all consider our behavior” if we want to see college sports played this fall.
Yep...that’s exactly what I said...and have been saying. I want to provide the opportunity for college athletics to be part of the fall, but we need to all consider our behavior to make possible what right now appears very difficult. “The direct reality is not good...” https://t.co/z3pHGeMIa9— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) July 11, 2020
SEC not yet ready to follow Big Ten, Pac-12
Sankey’s comments on the heels of two of the SEC’s power conference counterparts deciding to play conference-only schedules in 2020 — should the season take place at all. The Big Ten was the first to make the move on Thursday before the Pac-12 followed suit on Friday.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren voiced a similar sentiment as Sankey, acknowledging he is “very concerned” about the football season in an interview with Yahoo Sports on Thursday. Warren stressed that moving to a conference-only season provides maximum flexibility for the conference.
“The biggest thing is that this affords us an opportunity to be nimble and agile in an uncertain time,” Warren told Yahoo Sports. “It all ties back to the health and safety of our student-athletes. It’s easy for us to manage operations, the schedule and logistics when we’re focused on the Big Ten conference.”
Sankey, on the other hand, is not yet ready to make a decision. He said more information is necessary, but pointed to “late July” as the time frame in which he would like to reach a decision. Still, Sankey is aware that the trends of the virus in the SEC footprint “are not in the positive direction for being able to have normal experiences.”
"What I've tried to do is both keep a focus on what's ahead but provide reality, which has been I'm going to focus on preparing to play the season as scheduled but acknowledge the circumstances around coronavirus are going to guide us in that decision-making," Sankey said. "And the reality right now is the trends in our region, in our nation, are not in the positive direction for being able to have normal experiences."
According to multiple reports, all 14 SEC athletic directors are expected to meet Monday in Birmingham, Alabama, at the conference headquarters. The meeting has been “planned for at least two weeks,” according to Sports Illustrated.
ACC, Big 12 also waiting
Like the SEC, officials from the ACC and Big 12 have also pointed to a late July decision for fall sports.
“Over the last few months, our conference has prepared numerous scenarios related to the fall athletics season,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement Friday. “The league membership and our medical advisory group will make every effort to be as prepared as possible during these unprecedented times, and we anticipate a decision by our Board of Directors in late July.”
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told multiple outlets in recent days that he felt it was “too early” to make a decision. He told ESPN on Friday after Swofford released his statement that the Big 12 is “kind of on the same schedule” as the ACC.
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