SEC commissioner Greg Sankey called this a “week unlike any other” after having to postpone four college football games because of COVID-19 testing.
Sankey, who spoke to reporters Wednesday, projected confidence in the conference’s ability to finish a regular season and hold a championship game, but he also recognized the realities and challenges of playing during a global pandemic.
Since Monday, the SEC has announced that Saturday’s Alabama-LSU, Auburn-Mississippi State, Texas A&M-Tennessee and Georgia-Missouri games have all been postponed after COVID-19 testing left rosters depleted of available players.
“I’m certainly shaken,” Sankey said of recent developments, “but not deterred.”
Sankey said the biggest challenge to playing continues to be the number of players held out because of contact tracing as opposed to players with positive test results.
Policies around contact tracing, Sankey said, are not determined by the conference but rather at a local level.
“Contact tracing has the potential to magnify even one positive test,” he said.
Throughout his call with reporters, Sankey emphasized the ability and need to change. He said they knew all along that challenges would emerge this season, adding, “We will adjust.”
Sankey was asked multiple times about the viability of a College Football Playoff beginning Jan. 1 and whether that start date needed to be pushed back, or whether the field of competitors should be expanded. For the most part, Sankey declined to give firm answers, saying his focus was on the finish line of reaching the SEC championship game on Dec. 19.
“We’re all going to have to be flexible,” Sankey said of possibly pushing back the playoff. “So I’m not going to hypothesize about change, but I’m not inattentive to the potential that change may need to occur.”
Said CFP executive director Bill Hancock to ESPN on Wednesday: “No one knows how many games any team will be playing. Everyone’s goal is to get the games in within the cone of safety. For the selection committee, it’s status quo. This is not a surprise. Most of us expected games to be postponed or canceled. Everyone is moving forward as best they can.”
Speaking about the idea of change, Sankey downplayed the possibility of a bubble for the playoff, saying that idea existed mainly in the realm of college basketball. He also brought up the notion of expanding the playoff to eight teams and the challenges that would present.
“Expanding the playoff, in reality, makes it more difficult to complete a playoff,” he said.
Sankey reiterated that he was not concerned about SEC teams playing potentially fewer games and how that might hurt them in the playoff race.
“One thing I’m not worried about is the respect that exists of playing a Southeastern Conference schedule,” he said.
ESPN’s Heather Dinich contributed to this report.