You can walk around a lavish palace with a hall of mirrors and door leading into labyrinthine hallways, following every twist and turn.
You still have to knock on the door first.
That’s where we stand right now in terms of Southeastern Conference football. There can be speculation of all sorts but there is no sense wondering what might be inside as long as you are standing outside, hoping the door will open.
From the sound of things on Saturday, it might not. Greg Sankey, the SEC Commissioner, said his level of concern about the upcoming season was “high to very high.” The coronavirus pandemic numbers could show improvement in the next couple of weeks but the trend is not good. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have opted to announce a policy of “conference games only,” but that seems to be written on a chalkboard, not etched in stone, easily erased if things don’t improve.
Just to simplify things, let’s use round numbers and call it a 50/50 shot. Diehard optimists and data contrarians can continue to believe 100 percent that there will be a season. Pessimists can shake their head at the suggestion. Both sides can feel free to call the other side “conspiracy theorists.” We are simply going to say 50-50 so we can proceed.
If there is no fall season in 2020, I’m not so sure the proposal for a spring season — the Ivy League solution — is going to work for Power 5 football. One, playing 24 or 25 football games in a calendar year (if you assume a regular 2021 start date) probably wouldn’t be healthy. Second, a large number of the best players on the best teams would probably opt out and concentrate on the NFL Draft. That might have the unintended consequence of leveling the playing field, which is either good or bad depending on which college team you support. Most likely, the proposal is a non-starter.
On the chance that there is football in the SEC, the questions start cascading on top of one another as if you had just opened Windows 95. Is there a full schedule? Would Alabama, to use the local example, play its three remaining non-conference opponents (Georgia State, Kent and UT-Martin) and try to replace USC with another September 5 opponent? There is no shortage of interest in playing Alabama. TCU is in sort of the same boat and could easily play in Dallas (although probably not for $6 million each.) Bryant-Denny Stadium probably can’t be ready by then due to expansion, but is that a moot point? Of all the options out there, bringing even 10,000 people onto the UA campus by Labor Day seems to fading away the fastest.
If the SEC opts to follow the Big Ten path and opted for only intraleague games, how many? Eight, ten, twelve? Do you start on time or wait a couple of weeks. Now you are in the labyrinth, every step leading to a crossroads of choices?
That will all boil down to one question. It’s not whether everyone associated with the sport wants to see football in the fall. Of course they want do. But should they?
That’s the decision of primary magnitude for the SEC. Should they play? Answer that logically, and then you can step through the door — or decide to come back next year.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt