Will the SEC Play Football Alone? Commissioner Sankey isn't ruling it out

Nate Gabler

There's room for the Southeastern Conference to play football in the fall even if other leagues choose not to do so. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey is making that much very clear. 

Appearing on Jacksonville radio station 1010 XL, Sankey emphasized that all hope and optimism steers in the direction of playing a college football season like normal. 

That said, he says that individual conferences may have to make decisions, on their own, whether to play football or not. 

"There is room for different conferences to make different decisions," Sankey said. "If there's a couple of programs that aren't able (to play football), does that stop everyone? I'm not sure it does... But the ability for us to stay connected will remain important."

That last statement by Sankey emphasizes something many have speculated on. The COVID-19 crisis is going to change things, but it's unlikely for now that it causes power conferences to break away from the NCAA – the ability to stay connected remains important to the Sankey and the SEC. 

However, right now, conferences seem to be examining individual decision making. Much of this decision making will be centered around individual state regulations regarding stay-at-home measures and a decrease, or lack thereof, in the number of new COVID-19 cases in states. 

"Our hope is that people continue to pursue the healthy course," Sankey said. "(But) hope is not a plan, but right now the desire would be to have 11 states and 14 (SEC) institutions moving forward in a collective manner and, like I said, connected nationally so that we can celebrate the return of college sports."

It will be much easier to argue for the playing of football in states where regulations are already lessened. This past week, Georgia opened up churches, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters and other places of public gathering. Alabama's stay-at-home measures also expired on April 30. 

But those are just the states moving forward. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves seemed likely to ease stay-at-home regulations last week, before a record number of 397 new COVID-19 cases were announced on Friday. This gave Reeves obvious qualms about reopening, pushing off that decision until next week. In Louisiana, stay-at-home measures have been pushed back again, this time until May 15. 

But all of these SEC state regulations are nothing in comparison to that in places such as California, which recently extended it's stay-at-home policies until May 31. 

California governor Gavin Newsom also said in April, regarding playing NFL games in the state in August, that he's "not anticipating that happening in this state." These differences in state measures are why the SEC may have to play solo if they want to have football in the fall. 

Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said this past week that there have been no talks to push back the Rebel season opener against Baylor or to relocate the game. As of now, the game is scheduled to be played in Houston's NRG Stadium on Sept. 5. 

If the SEC has to play solo-football, that Baylor game wouldn't take place. How would that affect scheduled home-and-homes and other non-conference games in future years? Right now, future seasons are not really on anyone's radar. But if all non-conference games for 2020 are cancelled, Ole Miss would be scheduled to play their first game on Sept. 19, home for Auburn. 

In the same interview this past week, Carter said the goal for Ole Miss is to have student-athletes back on campus by July 1. Teams will push for extra practice time, something that will have to be uniform across all NCAA conferences if all conferences resume play. 

But for now, right or wrong, people are just looking for a return to normalcy. That sense of normalcy is a large driving part of what the SEC may move to do in coming months. 

“If we’re not playing football in the fall,” Sankey said, “I’d leave the football field and be thinking about what’s happening around us. If football is not an active part of our life in the fall, what’s happening around us becomes a real big question societally, economically and culturally.”

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