How the Big 12 Decision Has Saved LSU, SEC Football for Now

Glen West

Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 will be remembered as one of college football's darkest days for a number of reasons. The Big Ten and Pac-12 became the first Power 5 conferences to announce the postponement of the 2020 season after days of speculation and campaigning on behalf of some of college football's most known faces. 

For much of Tuesday morning it was expected that those efforts from players and coaches would provide a small glimmer of hope as reports surfaced that the Big Ten was considering a delay rather than a flat out cancellation. Instead, the conference elected to punt fall sports to the spring, with the Pac-12 following suit a little more than an hour later.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “It became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall."

The decisions weren't shocking by either but once finalized, sent shock waves throughout the college football community nonetheless. Ohio State and Nebraska leaders immediately released statements disapproving of the Big Ten's decisions.

"This is an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “My heart aches for them and their families."

While two of the conferences made the choice to postpone to the spring, Big 12 officials met on Tuesday as well and came to a different conclusion. It was reported that a small fraction of Big 12 leaders wanted to cancel fall sports, a small portion wanted to move forward with a fall season with a bigger number wanting to delay the season. 

In the end, the conference elected to move forward with a 2020 season which is significant to the survival of the college football season. Dellenger and fellow Sports Illustrated national writer Pat Forde had reported earlier in the day that if the Big 12 had decided to close the doors on a 2020 season, the ACC would be inclined to follow.

The intrigue now shifts to the Big 12, which one Power-5 source termed “the linchpin” in deciding whether there will be fall football at the FBS level. Basically, the league will provide a majority to either the “play” or “postpone” factions within the top conferences. If the Big 12 opts out with the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference is also highly likely to postpone. If the Big 12 opts in, the ACC and Southeastern Conference likely would push forward with trying to play in the fall.

If the ACC had opted out with the Big 12, it would have left the SEC as the remaining lone wolf pushing forward with a 2020 season, something Greg Sankey said Tuesday morning wasn't the "wisest direction."

"I don’t think that’s the right direction, really," Sankey said on the Dan Patrick Show. "Could we? Certainly. There’s a difference between can you do something and should you do something in life.

"We’re actually set up our schedule with our own health protocols; we could, if that’s the circumstance, operate on our own. I’m not sure that’s the wisest direction."

So where does all of this leave us moving forward? Well the plan for now is for the SEC, ACC and Big 12 conferences to continue monitoring and heeding advice of their medical tasks forces. The SEC and ACC released statements at practically the same Tuesday afternoon.

“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led to the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today. I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. "We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”

By no means is a college football season in the fall a guarantee. Health concerns, particularly with the reported myocarditis that’s being found with athletes' hearts, is something to keep an eye on. As is the potential liability that comes with a player that has long term effects after contracting the virus.

That’s not to mention what happens when outbreaks occur once students start returning to campus. Again it comes back to the point that Sankey has made all along, that the SEC wants to continue to collect data and students returning to campus for class is a big part of that.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,” Sankey tweeted. “SEC has been deliberate at each step since March...slowed return to practice...delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester..Developed testing protocols...We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so...every day.”

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