The possibility for spring football practices is still an option for the Southeastern Conference although the outlook appears to be bleak.
The SEC announced on Tuesday that it had canceled all of the remaining games for the spring semester, including spring football games.
“I’m not going to be overly optimistic about the return to practice,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey during a teleconference on Wednesday morning. “We haven’t fully closed that opportunity but, practically, that window is pretty narrow.”
Ole Miss was scheduled to start spring practice on Tuesday and Mississippi State was expected to follow suit on Thursday. The SEC has currently suspended all team activities including workouts and meetings through April 15, which prevent practices from starting up at least until that deadline passes.
“We have said no athletic activities through April 15th but that doesn’t mean we’ll be back to normal or to practice activities on April 16,” Sankey said.
Government agencies have urged Americans to practice social distancing and discouraged public and private gatherings. Since football practice would require dozens of players, coaches and other team personnel to interact closely, it is simply not feasible to do so at this time.
“If you look at the national public messaging about no gatherings above 50, it’s difficult to conduct any football practice under that limitation,” Sankey said. “Even with smaller numbers it’s been communicated – 10 is often referenced – thereby making it impossible.”
In the event spring football practices are canceled altogether, Sankey said he will work in conjunction with other conference commissioners and the NCAA to ensure teams are given enough time to prepare for the 2021 season, whether it included practicing in the summer or opening fall camps at an earlier date.
That timeline could be especially important for the SEC, which has four programs with new football coaches including Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and Mike Leach at Mississippi State.
“I’m confident if we’re not able to practice further this spring, I’m confident that we’ll be seeking opportunities to make sure our teams are adequately prepared heading into the season,” Sankey said. “Elements of that are going to be guided by the public health realities.”
With spring sports officially canceled, Sankey’s desire is for future sporting events to be uninterrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and to move forward with the fall schedule as previously planned.
“Our focus is on preparing for the 2020-21 academic year and the fall seasons as currently scheduled,” Sankey said. “There’s a period on the end of that sentence. We’ll obviously think about everything going forward because we’re being guided by public health in our decision making.
“But my hope is that we can return to our normal organized activities and normal experiences and be part of that celebration around soccer, volleyball, cross country and football in the fall. But we’ll have to see.”