While the Big Ten and the Pac-12 made the decision to postpone their fall football seasons Tuesday, the SEC is pressing on for the time being. This morning, Ole Miss AD Keith Carter and Mississippi State AD John Cohen spoke about where the league goes from here and how they’re preparing for a season that’s sure to be unlike any other.
Tuesday afternoon, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey took to Twitter to put college football fans in the south at ease, for now at least, by saying that they’ll continue to take a deliberate approach with a return to play in mind. As the player-led #WeWantToPlay movement continues, Cohen said that universities will continue to do everything in their power to safely move forward.
“The kids just want to play, and I think everyone wants them to play. We have to be super responsible, we have to make really tough decisions, but I think in terms of wanting to play, I think all of CFB—the fans, the players, the coaches—they all want to play. We just have to create the path of a safe environment. It’s not going to be perfect, it’s not going to be 100%, but we just want to put everything we can into creating as safe an environment as we can,” Cohen said.
Carter expressed that communication between the league office and the conference’s member institutions has been strong throughout this process and that this approach will allow them to adjust if and when new information becomes available.
“The beauty of this is that we can pivot at any moment, and certainly we’re going to let the medical piece, the science and the health dictate where we go and where this virus goes over the next month or so – we’ll see. I think we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our student-athletes to least last try,” Carter said.
With students beginning to return to campus, both ADs expressed the importance of following the protocols in place and the need for structure to ensure the safety of students and student-athletes alike.
Currently, workouts and team meetings are taking place on SEC campuses with practices set to begin on August 17th. Kickoff is slated for September 26th. While the SEC did release the two additional opponents for each team following the move to a 10-game, conference only model, the full schedule has yet to be released. The ADs hope to have the new schedule in hand later this week.
In Mississippi, an executive order currently limits football stadiums to 25% capacity, and Governor Tate Reeves has said that he’ll likely issue additional information on that order in the coming days.
As for what happens outside the stadium on gamedays, tailgating is an integral part of the college football experience, but in the COVID-era, it will inevitably look different this fall.
“We don’t have a clear picture of that yet, but I think I can say with a degree of safety that it won’t look the way it’s looked in the past, there’s no question about that. Tailgating is going to be problematic for several reasons, but in this great country we live in, we have the ability to adapt and stay healthy at the same time. We both have creative fans,” Cohen said.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have stated that an attempt will be made to play their respective seasons in the spring, which Carter says would present several logistical challenges—including concerns for player safety with the possibility of two seasons taking place in the same calendar year. The option of a spring season has been discussed by the SEC, but seemingly, only as a last resort.
“It’s certainly an option and if for some reason, we had to go another direction with the fall, we would pivot and look toward the spring, but I don’t think anybody thinks that’s a great option and would prefer to stay the course here in the fall,” Carter said.
If we’ve learned anything throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that things can change very quickly. While that may be the case here, with the SEC, ACC, & Big 12 holding steady, hope remains for college football this fall.