When unthinkable things happen there is a predictable, if uncomfortable, side effect.

You start thinking about other unthinkable things, even bigger ones, because if that original unthinkable thing happens, who knows where the boundary lies?

You could hear hints of that in SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey’s Tuesday teleconference (until further notice, all “press conferences” are going to be teleconferences). No one was panicking, there was no hysteria, but there was more than one question that began with a sort of probing, or a hope that the commissioner might use his superpowers to draw a line that says “this stops here…”

The questions started the same way, more or less.

“Greg, what about football?…”

That’s the overriding question on many minds right now. That’s not to make a value judgment that football is better, but it certainly is bigger. To set aside Alabama for a moment, let’s note at some schools, the pinnacle events of the college athletic season are different. In Minnesota, or Massachusetts, it may be the Frozen Fours in men’s and women’s hockey. In Iowa and Pennsylvania, it might be the men’s wrestling championships. There are Alabama fans, of course, who love basketball or baseball, softball or gymnastics.

Football, though, is the engine that makes the entire train move, whether you are speaking strictly about economics or whether, in this state, in this part of the world, provides a powerful culture thread that touches virtually everyone, nearly as much as the weather. So those questions, even ones seeking fairly specific logistical answers about spring practice or SEC Media Days or the other predatory rituals, were also seeking a little reassurance. Nothing is normal in the coronavirus era, but if there is going to be football, that indicates there will be a return to normalcy.

The first pending issue is spring football. There are a variety of options, although operating on a normal schedule isn’t one of them. There might be some way to play in September without the benefit of a spring practice, but that would raise serious concerns ranging from quality of play to safety and conditioning.

Sankey’s teleconference was a follow-up to Wednesday’s announcement that the plug had been permanently pulled on every other 2020 spring sports activity.

“That does not apply to spring practices at this time, and I think that (at this time) is the important qualifying phrase,“ Sankey said. “We have said (there will be) no athletic activities through April 15. That doesn’t mean we’ll be back to normal or to practice activities April 16, it was just a date that allows our administrators to communicate with our coaches, our coaches with their student athletes.

“If you look at the national public messaging about no gatherings above 50, (it is) certainly difficult to conduct any football practice under that limitation… thereby making it impossible into May, as has been stated. So, I’m not going to be overly optimistic about the return to practice. We haven’t fully foreclosed that opportunity, but I think practically that window’s pretty narrow.”

Without a spring, could there be football?

“I’m a half-full perspective person, so I have optimism,” Sankey said.

What that means to a half-empty perspective person, no one wants to consider — but it’s at least a potential monster around the bend, even if it disappears as hoped in the next couple of months.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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