Cecil Hurt: Greg Sankey has started the race to SEC football, but it's far from over
Greg Sankey didn’t dress for the part of conquering hero Monday, appearing on the SEC Network in a warm-up jacket, appropriate for a man who knows he is still running a race.
Sankey has had an up-and-down week, roughly the best we can hope for in the Year of the Pandemic. Things could be a lot worse. Some conference commissioners around the nation have only had downs, at least for the past few days. But Sankey knows better than to celebrate. He wasn’t condescending. He won’t be rejoicing if the first 2020 SEC game — the Jefferson-Pilot games to those of us of a certain age — kicks off as scheduled. If everything holds together from now until the SEC Championship Game in mid-December, he might allow himself a smile — or to collapse from sheer exhaustion after handing the winning coach a trophy.
"Today is not the conversation that a year or even six months ago I'd have in August," he said. "A reconfigured schedule that is expanding our season to 10 games — or really, shrinking it to 10 games … that's where we are. The ability to take it one step at a time so that our teams can practice today and continue to work through medical issues ... each one of those is important steps. Today is just a little bit more public than some of the others."
Unless the SEC and the other Power Five conferences have the power to pivot on a dime, the schedule will at least stand for a few days. Benchmarks still remain.
Asked about Tuscaloosa’s appearance as partying champions in all the national sports media outlets, Sankey expressed concern. That wasn’t unexpected. He had the same answer as most logical people. As the primary author of the SEC’s coronavirus protocol for game cancellation, he understands the risk and he understands that some of that risk could take the play/don’t play decision out of his hands, and those of the college presidents he represents, and put them in the hands of public health officials. He has the ability to look at the rosy back-to-school numbers at places like Notre Dame and North Carolina and to realize that those numbers can explode in a two-week time frame. Most sensible people — Nick Saban, for one — had the same answer and the same slight hint of frustration.
The schedule itself, 10 games and an open date, was a relief, both as a breaker of monotony and as a slate of games that seemed fair to everyone involved. One could quibble that LSU’s schedule (and Alabama’s, to be honest) was nicely spaced, with no back-to-back weeks of fierce opponents. Plus, no matter what you do with Arkansas’ tray of Scrabble letters, you still can only spell “A-N-G-U-I-S-H.” But Sankey shouldn’t have rioting coaches on his hands.
He will keep washing those hands, though, and proceeding cautiously, not punching the sky in triumph.
"The circumstances around the virus,” he said, “will be what guides us forward."
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt