SEC commissioner: Football in 2020 unlikely if all other conferences cancel season

(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

By JOSH VITALE/Montgomery Advertiser

Tuesday was a day of upheaval in college sports, with the Big Ten and the Pac-12 becoming the first two Power 5 conferences to announce they were cancelling the 2020 football season as well as postponing all fall sports, with hopes of playing in the spring.

For now, though, the SEC plans to stay the course.

“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “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. 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.”

The ACC issued a similar statement at almost the exact same time, just before 5 p.m. CT.

“The ACC will continue to make decisions based on medical advice, inclusive of our Medical Advisory Group, local and state health guidelines, and do so in a way that appropriately coincides with our universities’ academic missions,” it read. “We will continue to follow our process that has been in place for months and has served us well. We understand the need to stay flexible and be prepared to adjust as medical information and the landscape evolves.”

The Big Ten was the first major domino to fall, announcing its decision Tuesday afternoon — three days after the MAC and one day after the Mountain West did the same. The Pac-12 followed a little more than an hour later, postponing all athletic competition through the end of 2020.

All four conferences cited health and safety related to the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason. According to the Pac-12’s medical documents, the primary concerns were continued high community prevalence of cases, unknown long-term side effects of heart issues that have been found in some athletes, and the still-limited availability or rapid-turn-around tests.

“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,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The only conference that did not issue a statement Tuesday (as of this writing) was the fifth Power 5 conference, the Big 12. Many believe that it could be a swing vote in determining the fate of the college football season nationally.

When asked during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show earlier Tuesday if the SEC would be comfortable playing its season if every other FBS conference followed the lead of the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC, Sankey said “I don’t think that’s the right direction, really.”

“Could we? Certainly. There’s a difference between can you do something and should you do something in life,” he continued. “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.”

The SEC plans to start a 10-game, conference-only schedule on Sept. 26. Fall camp is scheduled to begin on Monday.