The SEC wants to play football this fall. That much is known.
How they’ll do it is another question entirely.
While the SEC remains steadfast in its decision to go ahead with the season, plans will likely change if the ACC and Big 12 join the Big 10 and Pac-12 in postponing their fall sports until the spring.
The ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC remain the only Power 5 conferences standing as the Big 10 a…
The two conferences made the announcement on Aug. 11, with the Pac-12 also delaying the start of winter sports until the new year, though rumors had been swirling through much of the previous weekend.
The Pac-12 followed the Big 10’s lead on Tuesday, electing to postpone all sports until the spring.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey joined the Dan Patrick Show just hours before the news broke last week and addressed the possibility of the conference continuing on with its season.
Sankey said the SEC has had precautions in place so they wouldn’t have to rush into any decisions regarding the future of fall sports, including delaying the start of the season, easing into full practices for football and implementing extensive testing protocol.
“I felt good on Friday, and then a little tumult over the weekend [when the news broke],” Sankey said. “We’re going to keep working day-to-day to see if we can provide opportunities for student-athletes to compete.”
Texas A&M Director of Athletics Ross Bjork said in an Aug. 12 appearance on Studio 12, the announcement didn’t come as a surprise to him. He said A&M and the SEC will take their time to make a similar decision since new information is almost constantly becoming available.
“Nothing really surprised us with those outcomes,” Bjork said. “But we know that things are fluid, things are changing. The quote that I’ve used is we’re not day-by-day, we’re 15-by-15 — we’re 15 minutes at a time because things are changing rapidly.”
Bjork said while the Big 10 and Pac-12’s decisions were based on the discovery of a heart issue called myocarditis in some of the athletes who had tested positive for the virus, A&M has been aware of the condition “since eternity.”
“We test for that,” Bjork told Studio 12. “We do initial screening when our athletes come on our campus. We did initial screening when they returned to activity for any cardiac issues. If anyone tested positive, they had to pass those cardiac tests before they could return after a positive test. That’s not necessarily a new piece of data either. We’ve known about that; we have the protocols to make it as safe as possible. To me, that’s the track that we have to stay on.”
Since the Big 10 and Pac-12 announcements, SEC fans have taken to social media to urge the conference to continue with their season, even if they are the only league to do so.
Sankey said while it would be possible for the SEC to be the only conference participating in competition this fall, he is unsure if it is the right decision.
“I don’t think that’s the right direction, really,” Sankey said. “Could we? Certainly. There’s a difference between can you do something and should you do something in life.”
Bjork said the SEC must rely on its own medical task force and their recommendations, rather than allowing the decisions of other conferences to sway them.
“[The SEC has] to stay the course,” Bjork said. “We can’t let the noise around us affect us, even though it’s very noisy. It’s very bumpy. It’s going to be rocky over the next couple of weeks as things are just evolving. We provide opportunities. That’s our job every single day.”
In anticipation of the upcoming season amid the global pandemic, both Sankey and Bjork said it comes down to one central idea: preparation.
A&M’s preparation has included intensive testing procedures for student-athletes; developing opt-out parameters for those who don’t want to risk their health or safety this season; and screening for myocarditis. Bjork said almost all of A&M’s student-athletes are taking online classes this semester.
While much of the professional sports world has developed “bubble” environments for their athletes, that isn’t something college sports can adopt. However, Bjork said A&M is limiting the amount of staff athletes are coming into contact with on a daily basis, which is a step in that direction.
“We’ve created what we call functional units around our teams,” said Bjork, adding that the key is for the athletes in each sport to be on the inside of that functional unit. “You can’t have a lot of people going in and out of that functional unit that don’t really have a working function, if you will. So we’ve created those to try to protect our student-athletes the best that we can. Classes are virtual for our student-athletes. We’re doing the best we can to make sure that the data continues to go in a positive direction.”
Despite the decisions made by the Big 10 and Pac-12, Sankey said the SEC remains confident in the advice it has received from its Medical Advisory Task Force that has allowed them to continue with summer workouts.
“Were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point,” Sankey said. “The indicators are [that] we can, right now, do what we’re doing in a healthy way.”
A&M football has been participating in meetings and walkthroughs since mid-July, with practice slated to begin Aug. 17. The volleyball and soccer teams began practicing Aug. 7.
When A&M’s classes start on Aug. 19, Bjork said the university and the conference will monitor the effects an influx of students will have on the COVID-19 data.
“The playbook that we’ve used every single time is, the more time you have the more info you’ll have,” Bjork said. “The more time you have the more you’ll know about the virus even though that’s still evolving. Give us time to put the protocols in place.”
Sankey said though fall sports seem to be in jeopardy, he encourages fans to remain positive and hopeful.
“I’d keep in mind we haven’t made final decisions — there is still some time — but we’ve set a start date,” Sankey said. “I’d be encouraged by that if I’m a college football fan. We announced opponents. I’d be encouraged by that. We have some medical care guidelines. That’s encouraging. We’re still [here] today. On Sunday, it was all over if I read social media, but we’re still here.”
The SEC is currently scheduled to kick off the football season on Sept. 26.