Sankey, SEC Athletics Directors Meet To Ponder Fate Of 2020 College Football Season

If not for the impact of the coronavirus, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey would be kicking off SEC Media Days in Atlanta on Monday.Vasha Hunt/USA Today

Tony Barnhart

Today is Monday, July 13, 2020. And if the world was in its normal place, the SEC would be kicking off its annual preseason media days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. This morning Commissioner Greg Sankey would be addressing over 1,000 members of the media and, for the next four days, we would be celebrating the beginning of another college football season.

Instead, Sankey will be meeting with his 14 athletics directors in Birmingham. Among the topics will be the state of the  2020 college football season—in its current form or any other form. 

The meeting, it should be noted, is not being held in reaction to the decisions of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 last week to play a football schedule of conference games only. This meeting has been on the schedule for two weeks and, according to various published reports, no major decisions are expected to be announced.

But it is an opportunity for Sankey and his athletics directors, who have met constantly on ZOOM calls since college sports were shut down on March 12, to meet face-to-face and have a candid conversation about the difficult decisions that will soon have to be made.

“Right now we’ve got to decide if we can play ONE game,” an SEC director of athletics told me. “If we can do that then we have to decide what the season will look like.”

Here was another factor to consider as these discussions began on Monday. On Saturday Sankey appeared on the SEC Network Show Marty & Magee. The commissioner was candid in his remarks.

After the interview, Sankey wrote this on Twitter: “The direct reality is not good. I want to provide an opportunity for college athletics to be a part of the Fall but we need to all consider our behavior to make possible what right now appears very difficult.”

When asked about his level of concern for the 2020 football season Sankey said: “High to very high.”

Since the beginning of this process back in March, Sankey has maintained that the final decisions on Fall sports in the SEC will not be made until late in the process. Earlier this year Sankey told me he had met with a biostatistician, which turns biological data into numbers that can be used in the decision-making process. That meeting convinced Sankey to use all of the time he had in order to get the best possible data to make the final decision.”

But in Saturday morning’s interview, it was pretty clear that the commissioner was frustrated that the numbers of those impacted by the virus have gone back up. Several states in the SEC footprint--such as Florida--have had record highs of infection.

"The direct reality is not good, and the notion that we've politicized medical guidance of distancing, and breathing masks, and hand sanitization, ventilation of being outside, being careful where you are in buildings," Sankey said. "You can't mitigate and eliminate every risk, but how do you minimize the risk?”

If the SEC decides to play the 2020 season, there will be some scheduling work that needs to be done. The Pac-10’s decision to go with conference games only means that Alabama’s Sept. 5 opener with Southern California in Arlington, Tex., will not be played. If the Big 12 and the ACC follow suit, the SEC will see a number of quality non-conference games go away. Here’s a partial list:

Sept. 5: Alabama vs. USC (Arlington, TX)

Sept. 5: Ole Miss vs. Baylor (Houston)

Sept. 7 : Georgia vs. Virginia , Atlanta

Sept. 12: Auburn vs. North Carolina, Atlanta

Sept. 12: Texas at LSU

Sept. 12: Miss. State at N.C. State

Sept. 12: Tennessee at Oklahoma

Starting with today's meeting in Birmingham, the next 2-3 weeks are going to tell the tale on all of this.

Stay tuned.


Tony Barnhart