COLLEGE STATION — The Southeastern Conference has a slogan across their television network, stating, “it just means more”. For now, nothing will matter until the world returns to some form of normalcy.
With the world of sports now dormant for some time, attention to turns to football season as the hopeful return. The NFL announced they would be continuing their plan of action despite the rising concern with COVID-19.
And while SEC commissioner Greg Sankey would like to give fans a definite answer, all he can do is remain the face of hope during a dark time.
“Some questions right now are unanswerable,” Sankey said. “‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly acceptable answer, but we have an obligation to figure what those answers will be moving forward, and we’re at one of those circumstances in life where there might be more ‘I don’t knows’ than ‘I know how’ something will play out.”
To simply put it, the SEC isn't the most important three-letter word out in the world right now. The CDC owns that title.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will decide when its safe to return to school. Or head back to your favorite watering hole. They'll even control when it is smart to return seeing your favorites for things such as weddings and baby showers; joyous moments now lost in the fuel fire of questions.
The CDC's job will be protecting the country and bring some routine together. But they will also help put a more precedent picture over SEC athletes returning to practice on April 16 and the football season starting on time.
“We’ll see what our health leaders say in a period of time to see what happens with growth of the cases,” Sankey said. “We’ll make decisions down the road. We have categorized everything. One, focus on the work we have to do now. Second, make sure to prepare for next year as planned. Third, big picture planning and contingency planning.”
The SEC has followed protocol under Sankey's direction, shutting down spring sports to help control the virus. Gymnastics, softball, baseball and all forms of basketball, tennis, golf, track & field saw their season come to an official end Tuesday afternoon when the conference announced they would be closing their doors.
What seems to be a slow death-march to the ultimate penalty, hope slowly slivered away from the hearts of fans and student-athletes. Last Thursday, the SEC initially suspended athletic competition until March 30. In less than 24 hours, that suspension pushed back until April 15.
On Tuesday, the SEC banged the gavel with a ruling no one will like; end the careers of several athletes before they were done on their own accords.
“I don’t think this is simply a senior issue,” he said. “My encouragement is we take a broad look at what type of opportunities we offer going forward.”
Hope continues to keep Sankey going through these challenge times. Calling himself a "half-full" water looker, the conference still will look to hold their summer meetings in Destin come May. That will follow with SEC Media Days in Atlanta later in July.
Best of all, as it stands now, kickoff will commence at Kyle Field on September 5 this fall.
“We have taken measures as have our colleague conferences at this time. I think that if I read those health leaders, we’re going to have a period of time to see what happens with the growth of these cases, and we’ll make decisions down the road,"Sankey said. "So for me, my responsibility is to continue to support the public health decision-making but also to be prepared to do our work as assigned to us.”
Everything though will be retained out of Sankey's hands. Should the CDC believe the virus won't be contained by the end of May, the first cancelation will come. Then another to follow. Then the domino effect of postponed plans will be the storyline heading into the regular season.
If there even is one at that point?
Things will be off to a rocky start for the new 2020 football season in perhaps the game's toughest division. All spring games have been canceled. Athletes are currently not allowed to train with Strength & Conditioning coaches due to the hope of keeping the virus quarantined. This will now put pressure on coaches to succeed when August ball becomes the only time to see what a team could produce heading into the year.
And what if those are canceled because of fear the virus coming back? Would that mean football would be gone as well? All questions with no answers to follow from Sankey and his office.
For now, the world of sports will be quiet. Still, Sankey, looking at the world as a half-full positive light, will wait for the phone call that could change the livelihoods of many.
In the end, a doctor will cancel college life as we know. Sankey will just follow protocol until that moment arrives.
“Our focus is on preparing for 2020-21 academic year as its currently scheduled,” Sankey said. “Obviously, we’ll think about everything forward. We’ll be guided by public health information. The hope is we’ll return to normal experiences and be part of that celebration around (the start) of soccer, volleyball, cross country and football. We’ll have to wait and see.”