SEC preparing to play 2021 football season as scheduled, commissioner Greg Sankey says
But that isn’t to say the season will look like it did pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are preparing to play the season as scheduled on Labor Day weekend,” Sankey said on a Zoom call hosted by the Nashville Sports Council. “I think we will be back toward normal. That is different than back to normal.”
Sankey shared his thoughts on a range of subjects in advance of the SEC Tournament, which begins in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena on March 10. But while basketball was the primary focus, the commissioner looked ahead six months to the beginning of 2021 football season.
Thirteen of the 14 SEC teams have a season-opening game scheduled for Sept. 4. Mississippi is slated to play Louisville on Sept. 6 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta.
Sankey indicated it is possible the coming season could be affected in similar ways to the 2020 season. The SEC shifted to an all-conference schedule and did not start until Sept. 26 last season. Some games were postponed due to COVID-19 cases and contact tracing within programs. Four teams only played nine of 10 scheduled games.
“Some of the adaptations we had to put in place last year may have to remain,” he said. “Maybe not as dramatic as having to play conference-only football, but the potential for disruptions and readjustments of schedules may be there. The potential for having to continue to swab our nose.”
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Sankey stressed that the COVID-19 vaccination process is “an important part” of how sports move forward, while the staples of recent months — masks, social distancing and hand-washing — remain important.
He focused on the rates of COVID-19 positive tests and hospitalizations as a reason for optimism for having a football season proceed more typically in the fall. He stated there has been “a deep dive” in both, while another spike in cases could create an obstacle.
“There is a light at the end of this tunnel, but we are not done. We are not at the finish line. I want to be at the finish line more so than anyone, I think. I think the first step is to recognize we don’t know when it will fully end. …
“If we can get through this continuing decline in the COVID rates to a place where it is manageable, perhaps that toward normal is more like back to normal.”
Sankey reflected on the process of getting the 2020 season into plate amid a whirlwind of hypotheticals from playing the season in the spring to waiting until November to start. He feels a lot more settled in the process after going through it last season, saying he is more hopeful about the way the coming season will progress.
“We will be prepared to play the season as scheduled and I can pivot off of that approach,” Sankey said.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.