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How does Greg Sankey define a successful SEC season in the coronavirus era?

“I still am in the hold-my-breath moment,” the commissioner said three days before his conference is set to kick off its first games of the COVID-19 era.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey says that crowning a conference football champion constitutes a successful season during the COVID-19 era.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey says that crowning a conference football champion constitutes a successful season during the COVID-19 era. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 23, 2020

Even as the SEC prepares to (finally) begin its season this weekend, commissioner Greg Sankey has his guard up.

“I still am in the hold-my-breath moment a bit,” Sankey said Wednesday.

But barring a monumental change, the league will kick off Saturday, with a slate that includes No. 5 Florida at Ole Miss and defending national champion LSU hosting Mississippi State in Mike Leach’s SEC debut.

Related: A brief history of Florida coach Dan Mullen trolling Ole Miss

“We’re close to the starting line,” Sankey said. “Saturday is nowhere near the finish line.”

The finish line is set for Dec. 19 with the league championship game in Atlanta, with the College Football Playoff after that.

With the uncertainty that is causing multiple games to get called off weekly, what would constitute a successful season for Sankey and the SEC in the COVID-19 era?

“Being in Atlanta on Dec. 19 naming a conference champion, I would define that as a success,” Sankey said.

The SEC rebuilt its schedule around that goal by ending non-conference games (like Florida-Florida State). It added open dates to make it easier to move matchups around because of inevitable outbreaks. It also pushed back the start of the season to allow spikes to subside after campuses reopened.

Related: Why it’s championship or bust for the Florida Gators

Sankey said the league is “really redefining success at this point.” Simply staging a full weekend of games would be a nice start.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey hopes to be in Atlanta in December to award the league's football title.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey hopes to be in Atlanta in December to award the league's football title. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

But given how the SEC centered its return-to-play plan on the league title, it shouldn’t be a surprise that crowning a champion remains Sankey’s defining goal. Even if he still isn’t sure what an on-field, socially distanced celebration might look like.

“I haven’t figured out trophy presentations yet,” Sankey said, “so we’re not quite to that level of game management.”

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