The chancellors of the Southeastern Conference’s 14 schools among 11 states meet today to discuss the league’s coronavirus COVID-19 threatened fall athletics schedule.
So far, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, other than forbidding August athletic competition which has not affected SEC football with all schools scheduling their football season openers in September, has delayed announcing a scheduling plan pending today’s meeting.
Football, the cash cow for the SEC’s athletic programs and most of the NCAA’s Division I school programs, is among the fall sports affected at the University of Arkansas and SEC schools, and their programs in men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.
Men’s and women’s basketball conceivably could be autumn affected with their official competition commencing in November.
The impact COVID-19 first noticeably affecting the U.S. caused a shutdown of all collegiate sports in mid-March through the June end of the spring semester prior to the scheduled men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments and the day before the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track Championships.
COVID-19 increasing rather than decreasing in many areas of the U.S. with 150,000 in our country killed by the disease vs. a desire to get back to normalcy including athletic competition and recovering financially has created divergent responses from various collegiate leagues.
Some smaller conferences have postponed or canceled all athletic competition this fall with contingency plans possibly to play some fall sports in the spring.
Among the dominant Power Five conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac 12 have announced their football games will be only within their leagues thus obviously reducing the normal 12-game football season by eliminating nonconference games.
The SEC and the ACC have expressed intentions pondering their decisions until the end of the month, which concludes Friday.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, despite four league schools based in the COVID-19 hot spot state of Texas, has endorsed the 10 Big 12 schools playing all its football games.
Big 12 member Oklahoma actually is starting its season a week early moving its scheduled hosting Sept. 5 nonconference opener vs. Missouri State to Aug. 29 in Norman, Oklahoma.
In announcing the earlier start, OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione explained, “Our original schedule had an open date between the second and third games, so now we will have a span of five weeks to play three games. It provides us a more gradual approach to safely manage the conditions of these unprecedented times.”
Sankey and the SEC’s athletic directors, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said, have wanted to evaluate the schools success rate coping with the virus as athletes from the various sports returned to campus during the summer for weightlifting and conditioning with football starting walkthroughs last week.
They also, Sankey and Yurachek said, want to evaluate the recent return of professional sports competing and practicing.
Those evaluations took an unfavorable turn this week in Major League baseball. Fifteen Miami Marlins players and two coaches tested positive for COVID-19 after their three-game series vs. the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend in Philadelphia.
Major League baseball has postponed seven Marlins games through Sunday.
Because the Phillies hosted the Marlins using the Phillies visiting locker room facilities, the Phillies four-game series with the New York Yankees this week also has been postponed.
The massive COVID-19 sweep through the Marlins has shaken confidence of many playing and managing the game.
“My level of concern went from about an 8 to a 12,” Washington Nationals Manager Davey Martinez, already initially concerned because of his history of heart trouble, said. “It hits home now that you’re seeing half of a team get infected and go from one city to another.”
Veteran Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun also expressed alarm.
“It’s disturbing,” Braun said. “It’s upsetting. It’s a reminder of how precarious the situation is that were in. There’s real fear and anxiety for all of us.’’
Even before news of the Marlins’ plight, the SEC has said its schools will honor the athletic scholarships of any SEC athletes opting not to compete this fall because of COVID-19 concerns.