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What’s next? Greg Sankey opens up on SEC shutting down spring sports

We’re living in uncharted times. Speaking to media for the first time since the decision to shut down the remainder of the spring sports season, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey put a little perspective on where we’re at in the country and the world… in a big way.

“Some questions right now are unanswerable,” Sankey said. “These are unique and challenging times, certainly, and interruptions we have not experienced since 9/11 and not in this way, at least in my lifetime.”

The commissioner of the Southeastern Conference held a conference call with media on Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the league office’s decision to close down the remainder of the spring sports and all SEC spring sport championships, as well as spring football games, due to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Multiple times, Sankey admitted that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer to a lot of questions right now. The question they do know the answer to, is that based on NCAA and CDC recommendations, closing down for the season was the right decision moving forward.

The decision by the SEC comes after a long string of events over a five-day window, essentially ending a saga. First, leagues moved to play games without fans. Then winter championships, including basketball tournaments, were canceled and spring sports put on pause until March 30 and later April 15. Now, the spring seasons are no more.

Sankey’s decision seemed like an inevitability – it ends questions of a return to play, but poses many other questions moving forward.

There will by monumental financial implications at all levels in these decisions to close. The NCAA is going to lose a lot of revenue, the Southeastern Conference is going to lose a lot of revenue and member institutions are going to lose money. However, money, Sankey stressed, was not a factor in the league’s decision making process over the last week.

So what’s next for Sankey and the SEC?

“Both at the college and professional level, the actions we’ve taken have impacted our way of life in significant ways,” Sankey said. “I don’t know is a perfectly acceptable answer, but we have a responsibility to find those answers going forward. … Right now, academic support is the most important thing to our Student Athletes, due to campuses moving to online-only.”

Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter emphasized on Monday night that Ole Miss will be providing student athletes with all support they need while they are away from campus, from academic to medical to mental health care. 

One small thing that still has not been completely eliminated is the spring football practice schedule. The SEC’s decision to close spring activities included all spring football games, including Ole Miss’s Grove Bowl; however, there’s still a window for practices to occur. Sankey make a point to mention that he’s not optimistic about the opportunity to conduct spring practices, and that the window to make that decision is narrow.

The decision to allow teams to practice would be based on the CDC and government recommendations of public gathering sizes. Currently, the government is recommending against gatherings of 10 or more people, while the CDC has not changed their number from the 50 they announced on Monday.

If spring practices are completely canceled, Sankey said the league will consider additional ways to prepare for the upcoming football season. Health and safety of players will be at the forefront, but those decisions could potentially include an increased fall training camp period.

Over the weekend, the NCAA announced that those athletes in spring sports will be granted an extra year of eligibility. There’s been no update on the technicalities of how this will work, including whether all athletes will be granted an extra year (the overwhelming consensus is that the statement would only cover seniors) or how teams would deal with a scholarship cap for the extra year.
Sankey iterated on the teleconference that he is in support of the decision, saying his “first read is that it’s an appropriate step,” but that he needs to know the full details before he can truly comment. That said, he wants the decision to extend to all athletes – not just seniors – as everyone participating in spring sports “had their seasons disrupted.”
Moving beyond the spring, the only summer event the conference had planned after the spring seasons and before fall football camps was SEC Media Days. Media days, a gathering of media members from around the country making available all football coaches and three players per SEC team, is currently scheduled for Atlanta in mid-July.

Sankey said he is currently taking a “glass half-full” view that media days will not need to be postponed.