CECIL HURT: Is there still a chance that Alabama will play LSU in 2020?

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The careful wording of the Southeastern Conference release Tuesday announced that the Alabama-LSU football game had been “postponed.” 

The immediate question that raised was what “postponed” meant. Did it mean that there was a good chance that the SEC would find a spot for the game, or did it mean that the game was essentially dead but the coroner hadn’t signed the certificate just yet?

Taking the broad view first, there are probably some factors that leave open the possibility that the game will be played. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey indicated on the league's teleconference Wednesday that his first priority as a “finish line” is the Dec. 19 SEC Championship Game. He also indicated, in response to a hypothetical question, that games impacting the division races that settle the participants in that game could ultimately take priority over games without divisional significance. That means Alabama-LSU could have added significance since Alabama leads the West, although part of the dilemma is that LSU also needs to play its postponed game with Florida, the prohibitive favorite in the East. 

The SEC plans to push through its weekend schedule, now down to three games, then evaluate future scheduling. 

Sankey said he would like to have results from “as many games as possible” but acknowledged that he did not have unlimited time before making some decisions. He also hinted that some currently-scheduled games might be moving.

“The ability to adjust games, modify the schedule will affect more than just the involved teams,” he said. "There are plenty of scheduling suggestions on Twitter, but I don’t run the league based on Twitter.” 

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey (right) talks with Ole Miss vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics Keith Carter (left) before they testify at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

Those were the carefully-considered answers from Sankey, a man of famous patience.

Now let’s move from the intellectual to the emotional, which is squarely where Alabama fans are standing on this issue. Nick Saban did nothing inflammatory in his turn at the SEC conference call, unless you are someone’s Uncle Tommy. He pointed no fingers at LSU, made no accusations and talked as he usually does about the realities on the ground, reshuffling practice schedules and the like.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday morning that he wants to play Alabama, although he also noted, much to the chagrin of Crimson Tide fans, that his team had started preparing for Arkansas, its Nov. 21 opponent, at some point before the Alabama-LSU postponement was announced. In full context, Orgeron said that the Tigers then went back to Alabama prep for at least one practice, and is now back on Arkansas again.

Setting aside the most animated objections from Alabama fans, no one on the teleconference broached the possibility that anyone was using COVID-19 protocols as a “dodge” to avoid a loss. No one, that is, except Lane Kiffin.

 "I guess injuries are counting in those numbers that people can get out of playing,” Kiffin said. "I don't know. Maybe some people don't want to play. Maybe their season's not going good. So who knows?"

A backhanded slap at Orgeron? A pre-emptory shot across the bow if a depleted Mississippi State can’t play in the Egg Bowl? There is no way to know. Kiffin being Kiffin? Definitely.

Regardless, one emotion prevails in Tuscaloosa: Alabama fans want the Crimson Tide to go to Baton Rouge and play, now more than ever.

They want more that redemption from last year’s game. They want retribution of the fire-and-brimstone variety. They don’t want to listen to another year of LSU fans talking about a win streak. They want the LSU game played. If Alabama is fortunate enough to win the College Football Playoff without it, Crimson Tide fans would still want to play LSU the week after the championship. 

As Sankey said, the coronavirus is making those decisions, more than any human being. There is no way to know what it will allow. Alabama-LSU might be lost as the SEC navigates the turbulent seas aside, but if it can be played, the emotions will be barely controlled, if that. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt