As the 2020 college football season hangs in the balance with the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceling fall sports on Tuesday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been steadfast that the conference is doing everything it can to safely play football next month. Sankey stressed patience and promised to make diligent decisions again Tuesday as his Power Five brethren pulled the plug on their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today," Sankey said in a statement Tuesday evening. "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."
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Appearing earlier Tuesday on the "Dan Patrick Show," Sankey relayed that the conference's presidents and chancellors have been given a green light by their medical advisory group to proceed with preseason preparation. Sankey specifically pointed to the conference's additional health protocols but also reiterated that fans also have an obligation to continue to adhere to best practices such as social distancing and wearing a mask.
SEC commissioner @GregSankey on @dpshow: "Our medical advisory group has said, ‘Yes, we can continue to go forward.’ Should that advice change, that would certainly be a stopping point."— Josh Kendall (@JoshTheAthletic) August 11, 2020
Sankey's message was a continuation of the what he wrote on his Twitter account, noting that the best advice he's received since COVID-19 is: "Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you'll gain better information each day."
"SEC has been deliberate at each step since March...slowed return to practice...delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester.....Developed testing protocols...We know concerns remain," Sankey continued. "We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don't know. We haven't stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so...every day."
The decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 leave the ACC, Big 12 and SEC with decisions to make about whether to proceed with the season. As of Tuesday night, only 59% of FBS teams are committed to playing this season (77 of 130) due to other season cancellations by the Mountain West, MAC, UConn, Old Dominion and UMass.
The SEC announced July 30 that it planned to play a 10-game, conference-only schedule and pushed the start of its season to Sept. 26. Sankey said the adjusted schedule offered "the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur," and the league went ahead Friday with announcing which additional two opponents for each team in the conference.