As the SEC sorts through the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on one of the most powerful conferences in college athletics, commissioner Greg Sankey isn’t afraid to admit what he doesn’t know.
“Some questions right now are unanswerable…” Sankey said.
Here’s what the league does know: All of its games and competitions have been canceled through the end of the academic year. Spring games and pro days are out, too, and team meetings/practices won’t take place until April 16 at the earliest.
Almost everything else is unknown, if not unanswerable:
Will spring football practice take place?
Probably not, Sankey said.
Some schools across the country already started spring ball, but others (including Florida) did not; the Gators were scheduled to start earlier this week. With public officials discouraging large gatherings, Sankey said he isn’t “overly optimistic” spring ball will happen.
“We haven’t fully foreclosed that opportunity,” Sankey said, “but I think practically, that window’s pretty narrow.”
If spring ball cannot begin or resume, Sankey said he’s “confident that we’ll be seeking opportunities to make sure our teams are adequately prepared heading into the season.” What those opportunities might be and how the NCAA calendar might have to change to accommodate them remain unclear.
What about spring meetings and media days?
They’re still on, for now.
Sankey said most of the SEC’s April events have been altered, but the league’s meetings (typically right after Memorial Day) are still on, even as officials explore contingency plans. The same goes for media days, the July 13-16 event in Atlanta that serves as the unofficial kickoff to football season.
“We’re going to prepare for disruption,” Sankey said, “but we’re going to plan as if in July we’ll have the media days opportunity as scheduled.”
Will the upcoming football season kick off as planned, with Week 1 on Labor Day weekend?
“That’s my focus,” Sankey said.
Decisions about the fall schedule remain weeks, if not months, away, and Sankey said those conversations will be guided by public health officials. Sankey hopes football and the other fall sports can be a part of the celebration of a return to normalcy, “but we’ll have to see.”
What will happen to the eligibility of players whose seasons ended early?
That’s one of the most pressing athletic issues Sankey wants addressed.
The NCAA wants some sort of eligibility relief for athletes in spring sports like softball and baseball because their seasons were largely wiped out. Sankey supports that step.
But there are other wrinkles, too. What should happen with winter sports like basketball and swimming, which were in various stages of completion? What are the scholarship-limit and financial implications of an extra year of eligibility for certain players? And what about recruits who signed with a school because of an impending roster vacancy that won’t happen for another year?
“There are a number of sensitivities here that merit the kind of discussion that I know is occurring right now,” Sankey said. “My encouragement is that that be done in a relatively time-efficient manner.”
What will the financial impact be?
Sankey doesn’t know yet.
Sankey said the SEC has been focused more on the health of everyone involved than the money. But his conference (and every other one) will feel some impact through a lack of ticket sales and the cancelation of the nine-figure NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“I’m certain we’ll move forward financially in a positive way,” Sankey said, “but we’ll have to figure out all of the adjustments and impacts in the days and weeks ahead.”