SEC commissioner Greg Sankey tried to share his level of concern after his league has had four games postponed this week due to COVID-19. "I'm certainly shaken," Sankey said during a conference call, "but not deterred."
The SEC became the nation's leader in the clubhouse this week in terms of total games impacted by COVID-19 (seven). That's an unfortunate designation as cases spike across the country. That after four games were postponed by the conference this week.
Fifty-five FBS games have been impacted nationwide since the shortened season began. However, 18 of those affected have occurred in the last two weeks as COVID-10 becomes more a concern not just in college football but nationwide.
Concern has heightened now that three of the top five teams in the AP Top 25 were forced to postpone games this week (No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Texas A&M). Four of the eight games canceled or postponed nationwide this week are SEC contests. At that rate, Sankey was asked his level of confidence the league will make it to the regular-season conclusion on Dec. 19 with the SEC Championship Game.
"I said, 'Let me get through the games of Thanksgiving [Nov. 26], and I'll feel more comfortable,' Sankey said. "Obviously, that's changed. I'm going to have to acknowledge, if you're troubled by what's happened this week ... there is an opportunity to focus on the 19th. But we have to adjust further."
Right now, that means rescheduling several games. Already, the Florida-LSU game from Oct. 17 has been moved to Dec. 12. Because of that change, this week's postponed Alabama-LSU game cannot be moved to that league-wide open date. Georgia-Missouri was postponed Wednesday. Neither team has a common open date. However, there were reports stating the game could be played Dec. 19, same day as that SEC Championship Game.
The other SEC games postponed this week were Auburn-Mississippi State and Texas A&M-Tennessee. The Florida-Arkansas game will go on but without Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman, who will stay home this week after testing positive for COVID-19.
Adding to the angst, Pittman has no idea how he got infected. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I was somewhat depressed," Pittman said.
While the SEC may lead in games impacted, it's not like the Big 12 and ACC (five each), Big Ten (three) and Pac-12 (two) have been unaffected. Consider the Pac-12 just started play last week and the Big Ten one week earlier.
As the season counts down, it's unlikely the College Football Playoff could go into a bubble or be pushed back from its current dates -- Jan. 1 (semifinals) and Jan. 11 (national championship), Sankey pointed out. College football, then, may have to continue to adjust on the fly.
CFP contender Texas A&M had this week's Tennessee game rescheduled to Dec. 12. If there are any other postponements, Sankey was asked if the Aggies (5-1) could lose their traction for a CFP spot.
"The reality is -- one thing I'm not concerned about is the respect that exists for playing a Southeastern Conference football schedule. That's not going to change," Sankey said.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher speculated that most of his team's problems may have come from traveling on planes for road games and cramped visitors' locker rooms.
"You're in small lockerrooms. That's a huge factor," Fisher said.
"It's a conversation that needs to be had," Sankey said of the road locker rooms.
Sankey and others pointed out that contact tracing has become more of an issue than infections themselves. Contact tracing is defined as tracking down those who have been in contact with an infected person. There were only two positives as of Wednesday afternoon at Texas A&M, Fisher said, but there were issues with contact tracing.
Sankey also said that issue is out of collegiate administrators' hands because contact tracing rules are managed locally. With most of college football regular seasons ending in less than a month, conferences are running out of room to reschedule games. The SEC, Big 12 and ACC built in bye weeks in case games had to be made up.
The Big Ten (nine straight weeks) and Pac-12 (seven) decided to play without an interruption. The Big Ten has already had those three games canceled, the latest being Saturday's Ohio State-Maryland game. The Pac-12 has seen two games canceled before reaching its second week.
"The reality is if you walk in the back of my building there's a sign that says, 'Be flexible.' It's a reminder to everyone who walks in with their masks on ... we're all going to have to be flexible," Sankey said. "I'm not going to hypothesize about change, but I'm not inattentive to the potential that change may occur at a number of different levels."
It isn't likely the FBS commissioners who oversee the CFP will set a minimum number of games to be eligible for the playoff, Sankey indicated. As it stands now, Wisconsin could get to the playoff playing only seven games. Meanwhile, a team like Clemson could play 12 games in a full season.
"None of us could predict how many games would be played," Sankey said, "and so there's a bit of acknowledgment of variance. But I tend to think that guidance to the selection committee still has great meaning and the ability to have more data points [games] is important."
The SEC made the decision to launch its season Sept. 26, later than the Big 12 and the ACC. Those were the only three Power Five conferences playing at the time. The Big Ten and Pac-12 later decided to begin Oct 24 (Big Ten) and Nov. 7 (Pac-12).
"This is certainly a week unlike any other," Sankey said. "I've repeatedly said [since March] that the circumstances around the virus will guide our decisions."