Greg Sankey isn’t in the business of predictions.
He’s looking at facts. With that said, the SEC commissioner told “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Monday the upward trends of COVID-19 are “problematic” but also said he feels a “responsibility not to just say, we’re done.”
Any plans for the upcoming college football season as it relates to the schedule won’t be made until late July.
Sankey, after a full day of meetings with the league’s athletic directors in Birmingham, plans to take as long as possible before a plan is devised.
“There are any number of opportunities to learn from, which is the way we’ve always viewed what would play out,” Sankey told Finebaum. “You go back to April, one of the guiding points from our faculty members, to take as long as you can in your decisions because you will have better information.
“My comments over the weekend on ‘Marty and McGee’ are an indication the trends are not what we desire, not what we experienced a bit earlier in the summer, very much in the wrong direction. That’s problematic. That doesn’t mean that’s the finish line and things won’t change. We’ve seen the news around COVID-19 alter itself in different ways over weeks.
“What we‘ve identified is an opportunity in late July for an important check-in to see what our public health reality is.”
College football scheduling has been a hot topic since last week when the Big Ten became the first Power 5 conference to announce it would be playing a conference-only schedule.
“We are not at that destination and a number of our colleague conferences are not at that destination, so the Big Ten made its decision,” Sankey said of the conference-only format. “We have no common games with the Big Ten Conference this year, just one of the realities in our schedule. The impact of their decision is indirect.
“We did have two games to be played with the Pac-12 , the USC-Alabama to be scheduled in Dallas and Colorado and Texas A&M, so we’ve had minimal direct impact on our schedule. We had a call Thursday night with Larry Scott after the Big Ten conversation. Larry gave us a more complete update on some of their circumstances and understanding their realities within the state of California.”
Other Pac-12 issues, Sankey pointed out, were three Week 0 games, which impacted Scott’s decision.
Still, Sankey pointed to March when conferences made the decision to call basketball early. It is possible, he said, we are on a similar path for the fall.
“I don’t know if it is every conference for ourselves, but obviously people made decisions,” Sankey said when asked about the Big Ten making a decision independent of the other Power 5 conferences. “… I observed that what happened in March was a really good indicator of what may happen when we look toward the fall, which was groups of universities — conferences — made independent decisions. Now, we all ended up at the same destination.
“That’s a good example of what we could see this summer. Lo and behold, that’s what happened. Now, whether we all wind up at the same destination is yet to be seen.”
The SEC, ACC and Big 12 have been consistent in their stances, Sankey said, to “use time to the extent it is available to gather information.”
“The fact that we have seen an increase of cases in the last few weeks across our region is not a positive indicator,” Sankey said. “That’s just a statement. I won’t provide a number. That’s not the right direction.
“There has to be more intent and more focus on heeding the guidance that’s been provided on distancing, on gathering on face masks, breathing masks, on hand sanitation. We still have a lot of unknowns. … Those conversations have ended with it will be important to watch what happens over the next two or three weeks. those aren’t overly hopeful comments. I want to be clear about that.”
There are positive indicators, however. Health of the student-athletes and the staff were pointed out, and Sankey hopes to be able to extend that to the fans.
ACC commissioner John Swofford late last week echoed the same sentiments.
The Pac-12 reacted Friday with a similar move, meaning Alabama’s game with USC on Sept. 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is now canceled.
The move left SEC fans wondering what the conference will do for the upcoming season.
Prior to Sankey’s appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” the meeting of SEC ADs was the first in-person meeting of the conference’s athletics directors since the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville in March.
“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 said, per a release. “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.”
According to the release, the athletic directors heard a report from members of the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force and discussed issues relevant to the current pre-season calendar and the approaching fall seasons of competition, including an update on current COVID-19 testing procedures.
Among the topics discussed were possible scheduling options for holding athletic competition in the fall of 2020.
“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 said about the meeting. “The ability to personally interact over the course of an entire day contributed to the productivity of the meeting.”
Mark Heim is a sports reporter for The Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Heim.