LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he can't ignore the looming reports of college football conferences postponing their football seasons. The list officially extended into the Football Bowl Subdivision in the past three days, when the Mid-American and Mountain West both postponed their seasons.
Sunday speculation spilled into Monday that the Big Ten was also canceling its fall season and that the Pac-12 would follow. A Big Ten spokesman later said no official vote had yet taken place.
The combined traction was enough for the Southeastern Conference's school presidents to schedule an impromptu meeting Monday afternoon. The league's presidents decided to continue to monitor the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and fall sports, a source told The Advocate. The league's football plans, for now, continue as scheduled.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on the Dan Patrick Show Tuesday morning: “It is not simply going to be a guiding moment if another conference makes a decision, but a piece of information along this really interesting journey.”
Sankey said the league's medical task force gave them clearance to proceed with the football season.
“Were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point," Sankey said. "The indicators are we can right now do what we’re doing in a healthy way.”
The SEC released its coronavirus protocols Friday. The league will coordinate testing with a third-party provider at least twice a week during the season, and schools are urged to find a way to test a third time.
"The easiest thing to do right now is say no," Orgeron told WNXX-FM, 104.5's "Off the Bench" on Tuesday morning. "But we want to compete for our players and find out what’s best for them. Now, at the end, if our players can’t play, I’m not going to put them in harm's way and they know that."
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement Monday that "the recent flood of reports surrounding college athletics does not alter" the league's steady approach in deciding what it will do with its football season.
"I believe our student-athletes want to play," Woodward said. "We owe it to them to make every effort to do so safely.”
When the Big Ten became the first major conference to commit to a league-only season in early July, the SEC waited until the end of the month before it also committed to a league-only, 10-game season.
Orgeron said Tuesday that he believes the SEC will "make a proper decision when the time come" and has "100% confidence" that the league's presidents will make the right decision.
The time for a decision almost seemed like it was happening on Monday. But a large public outcry from the SEC's athletic directors, coaches, players, even President Donald Trump, in favor of playing a football season seemed to guide the league's actions.
Several SEC players began tweeting support for a season using the slogan, "We Want to Play" — a phrase star LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase also posted Sunday night. The Biletnikoff Award winner's father, Jimmy, said last week that Chase is "locked in" for the 2020 season.
Coaches like Florida's Dan Mullen and Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin used the phrase too.
"We're still fighting to play," Orgeron said Tuesday. "We want to play. We've always spoke like we want to play."
Orgeron has long insisted that LSU can play football safely. He joined Vice President Mike Pence in Tiger Stadium in mid-July and said "I don't think we can take this away from our players, take this away from our state and our country. We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country."
Coronavirus still has a significant hold in Louisiana. On Sunday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 2,653 new cases — a number that dropped drastically to 562 reported cases on Monday. The agency reported a combined 80 new COVID-19-related deaths in both days.
LSU players have also taken action due to the virus. Senior linebacker Travez Moore shared his experience with COVID-19 last week on Twitter, saying he lost 27 pounds, lost appetite and had difficulty breathing.
"Bro coronavirus is real," wrote Moore, who recorded three tackles, a half tackle for loss and half a sack in 2019.
On Saturday, senior defensive lineman Neil Farrell became the first LSU player to opt out of the season. The SEC announced in July that players who choose to sit out the season due to health concerns will still have their scholarships honored.
Farrell posted a message on Twitter that said the virus has hit his family hard and that his grandmother is currently battling the virus in the hospital.
Orgeron said Tuesday that he encouraged Farrell in his decision.
"I said, 'Neil, go home,'" Orgeron said. "'We told you we were going to do that. Come back next year. Come back in great shape and have a great senior year.'"
Orgeron agreed with a common point among league leaders that players are most safe on campus. It's a point that Alabama coach Nick Saban also told ESPN on Monday, saying "players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home."
Indeed, players don't have the same access to the expensive medical care colleges are providing at home, but it's not certain college athletes will be sent home if the football season is canceled. LSU has adopted a hybrid return-to-campus plan that uses both online and in-person instruction. Players would likely stay on campus, go to school and train as if it were the offseason.
LSU has declined comment on specifics regarding coronavirus cases within its athletic department, and it has not independently released updates and case numbers like other schools such as Clemson, Kansas State and Texas.
Orgeron said Tuesday the team has "very few guys that have it" and most of the players who contracted the virus were asymptomatic.
"Our players feel safe," Orgeron said.