SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has a sign that hangs near his office: “Be flexible,” it reads.
The league presidents took the advice to heart. SEC executives on Thursday approved a provision to allow its teams more flexibility amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has postponed four games this weekend and six since the start of the season.
Two teams that have a game impacted on the same weekend can now schedule a game with one another instead of sitting idle, sources tell Sports Illustrated. For instance, under this new policy, if Auburn didn’t have its outbreak this week, the Tigers could have played Alabama this weekend. Alabama is idle after its game against LSU was postponed because of COVID-19-related issues in Baton Rouge.
However, there are stipulations. A rescheduling decision would have to be made by Monday before a Saturday game. The policy prohibits rematches, and a new game cannot be created. The two teams would have to be already scheduled to play one another. They would each, of course, have to clear COVID-19 thresholds.
Texas A&M and Mississippi State are dealing with COVID-19 issues. If they can’t play games next week against Ole Miss and Georgia, the Rebels and Bulldogs could not schedule a game because they are not already scheduled to play a game. However, if next week the Missouri–South Carolina game is postponed because of a COVID-19 issue with one team, Georgia could schedule either Missouri or South Carolina. Both teams remain on the Bulldogs’ future schedule. The site of a rescheduled game would not change from its original schedule.
The policy would not have made an impact this weekend. Among those involved in postponed games this weekend, the three teams cleared of COVID issues—Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama—have each played one another already.
The flexibility comes at a time when the league finds itself in a pickle because of virus-related problems on several teams. Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M have paused activities, and LSU has COVID-19 issues as well. The same goes for Ole Miss, according to coach Lane Kiffin, but the Rebels are still scheduled to play this weekend.
The conference implemented flexibility in its schedule with a Dec. 12 open date for COVID-19-impacted games. Halfway through the season, 10 of the league’s 14 teams have already shifted games to that weekend. The situation is dire enough that on Tuesday, SEC administrators approved a proposal to grant a second COVID-19 flex weekend Dec. 19 for those games not involving division champions, who would be competing in the SEC title game that day. Presidents also approved that proposal this week.
Most league teams—aside from Auburn, which has 13 team members who tested positive—are more impacted by contact tracing than actual positives, something SI detailed earlier this week.
The SEC’s latest move to allow for flexibility comes as the Pac-12 could potentially enact the same rule. Arizona State–Cal has been canceled because of COVID-19 issues with the Sun Devils. If another Pac-12 game is impacted, Cal could play the COVID-19-cleared team this weekend.
“Flexibility is the name of the game,” said a source in the Pac-12.
Just like Sankey’s sign.