FAYETTEVILLE — If threats of serious illness and even death don’t work, perhaps the threat of forfeit will.
For with the covid vaccines available that weren’t this time last football preseason, the SEC is scheduling football all systems go with a 12-game schedule and no gap weekend before and including the SEC championship game weekend.
The SEC, and thus its 14 teams, intends an all systems go season starting the Sept. 4 weekend through the Thanksgiving weekend without opportunity to reschedule games for teams with rosters too covid reduced to play a particular game or games.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey emphasized that addressing Monday’s opening of the 4-day SEC Media Days in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Ala.
The emergence of covid’s delta virus, particularly throughout the SEC landscape including Arkansas, has Sankey on the July offensive.
“You hope not to have disruption,” Sankey said. “But hope is not a plan is the great cliche. That means your team needs to be healthy to compete and if not the game won’t be rescheduled. And thus to dispose of the game, the ‘forfeit’ word comes up at this point.”
That, as Sankey reminded, is what happened to the covid afflicted North Carolina State Wolfpack baseball team sent home from Omaha, Neb. where it was supposed to play a winner-take-all semifinal game against Vanderbilt to advance the College World Series final against eventual national champion Mississippi State.
“What you see are the bookends now for decision-making,” Sankey said. “We’ve not built in the kind of time we did last year, particularly at the end of the season, to accommodate disruption. And unless we’re going to do that, our teams are going to have to be fully prepared to play their season as scheduled which is why embedded in my remarks is the vaccination motivation.”
Early in his address Sankey said, “We have learned how to manage through a covid environment but we do not yet have control of a covid environment. That finds us preparing to return to normal this fall but we see realities around us.”
The realities, Sankey said, are a better shot to control that environment with the vaccine shots.
“Covid-19 vaccines are widely available,” Sankey said. “They’ve proven to be highly effective. When people are fully vaccinated we all have the ability to avoid serious health risks and reduce the virus’ spread and maximize our chances of returning to a normal college football experience and to normal life. We know nothing is perfect, but the availability and the efficacy of the covid-19 vaccines are an important and incredible product of science. It’s not a political football.”
Sankey opened quoting the Bob Dylan classic song “The Times They Are A-Changing” describing college athletics not only dealing with and adapting to the new issues of covid, but the names, image and likeness opportunities enabling collegiate athletes to monetize commercially off their athletic success and reputations.
Sankey said he first used the “The Times, They Are A-Changing” reference back at the 2015 SEC Media Days, his first as SEC Commissioner.
“I think I got that right,” Sankey said. “Maybe a little early because the times are changing.”
Florida Gators Coach Dan Mullen, LSU Tigers Coach Ed Orgeron and South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer and two of their players addressed media Monday afternoon after Sankey in Hoover.
Orgeron’s Tigers and Coach Sam Pittman’s Arkansas Razorbacks will clash in a Nov. 13 SEC West game in Baton Rouge, La.
Brad Davis, coaching Arkansas’ offensive line for then first-year Arkansas Coach Pittman last year, and a player for Pittman when he coached Oklahoma’s offensive line and Pittman’s grad assistant when Pittman coached North Carolina’s offensive line, now coaches Orgeron’s LSU offensive line as a Baton Rouge native come home.
“Brad Davis is a tremendous recruiter and up and coming offensive line coach,” Orgeron said Monday. “You always have a group of coaches on a list in case something happens. Something did happen and he became available and we’re happy to have him. He’s happy to be home in Baton Rouge.”
Pittman, Razorbacks senior linebacker Grant Morgan and senior left offensive tackle Myron Cunningham will address Thursday’s closing session in Hoover.