SEC commish: League not at point of conference-only schedule

SEC commish: League not at point of conference-only schedule
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey at headquarters

( - The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a major impact on sports. Four months ago, virtually the entire sports industry in the U.S. shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

And ever since, leagues have been attempting to bring sports back in a safe manner. The effects on college football could be drastic.

Last week, both the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced plans to play conference-only schedules in fall sports, including football.

The SEC held a meeting with all 14 of the conference’s athletic directors Monday in Birmingham, Ala., to discuss the upcoming season, and commissioner Greg Sankey joined the Paul Finebaum Show to provide an update.

Finebaum asked if the SEC discussed plans of modifying to a conference-only format to scheduling.

“We are not at that destination and a number of our colleague conferences are not at that destination,” Sankey said. “The Big Ten made their decision and we have no common games with the Big Ten Conference this year. So the impact of their decision is indirect. We did have two games with the Pac-12 — the USC/Alabama game scheduled to be played in Dallas and Colorado and Texas A&M — so we’ve had minimal direct impact on our schedule.”

Sankey did, however, reinforce his concerns over recent trends regarding the coronavirus.

“My comments made last week on Marty and McGee are the trends are not what we desired, not what we had experienced a bit earlier in the summer,” Sankey told Finebaum. “We’ve gone in the wrong direction and that’s problematic. That doesn’t mean that’s the finish line and things will never change. We’ve seen the news around COVID-19 alter itself in different ways over a number of weeks. And so what we’ve identified is an opportunity in late July for an important check in to see our public health reality. We were told from the beginning to take as much time as possible to make a better decision.”

Sankey’s appearance with Finebaum came moments after the SEC’s meeting wrapped.

“We had a productive meeting on Monday and engaged in discussions on a number of important issues that will contribute to critical decisions to be made in the weeks ahead,” Sankey in a statement before his radio appearance. “The ability to personally interact over the course of an entire day contributed to the productivity of the meeting.”

The meeting marked the first in-person meeting of the Conference athletics directors since the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville in March. The athletics directors have met multiple times per week via videoconference since the discontinuation of athletic competition in March due to the pandemic.

“It is clear that current circumstances related to COVID-19 must improve and we will continue to closely monitor developments around the virus on a daily basis,” Sankey added. “In the coming weeks we will continue to meet regularly with campus leaders via videoconferences and gather relevant information while guided by medical advisors. We believe that late July will provide the best clarity for making the important decisions ahead of us.”

Sankey is perhaps one of the most notable voices in the sport and he gave his stance on the prospects of the upcoming season. Joining Marty Smith and Ryan McGee on Saturday morning’s episode of, “Marty and McGee,” Sankey said his concern about the plausibility of having a 2020 football season is, “high to very high.”

“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 on the show, as transcribed by ESPN. “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 quote made its rounds online, Sankey took to Twitter and responded.

“Yep...that’s exactly what I said...and have been saying,” Sankey tweeted. “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.’”

Sankey is not the only college sports commissioner to share these types of concerns about having a season at all in 2020. On Friday of last week, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel that he was also concerned about the future of the season.

“I am very concerned about the season,” Warren reportedly told Yahoo! “I’m an optimistic person, but I am very concerned. We want to take one step at a time. …The biggest thing is that this affords us an opportunity to be nimble and agile in an uncertain time,” Warren said. “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.”

247Sports’ Riley Gates contributed to this story

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