Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday that the league's suspension of athletic activities through April 15 amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus doesn't rule out that spring football practice could resume, but the "window is pretty narrow."
The conference canceled all athletic competitions for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic calendar on Tuesday, which included all regular season games, championship events, pro days and spring football games.
LSU was scheduled to play its spring football game April 18 at A.W. Mumford Stadium. That scrimmage, per the SEC's suspensions, will not happen. But Sankey said the league still hasn't canceled practices in any sports, including football, beyond April 15.
"That doesn't mean we'll be back to normal or practice activities April 16," Sankey said on a conference call Wednesday. "It was just a date certain that allows our administrators to communicate with our coaches, our coaches with our student-athletes that has resulted in the departures from campus."
Would it be practical for practices to resume in May? June?
"Let's not just define some structure," Sankey said. "I'm confident, in fact, 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."
Much of the collegiate athlete population has already left the league's campuses. LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said Monday that there were just over 120 players remaining on campus, a number that would decrease as the days went by.
For now, food facilities and athletic training rooms have been left available for the remaining players on campus. Meanwhile, while nearly every sporting event is canceled or suspended nationwide, the SEC is one of many leagues faced with nearly countless questions as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surge across the country.
As of last week, Sankey said, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus with any SEC coaches or players.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been 280 positive cases of coronavirus in Louisiana and seven people have died from the virus.
On Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered the closings of bars, gyms and casinos and banned gatherings of 50 or more, and Edwards announced Wednesday that "this is going to get much worse before it gets better."
Cases of coronavirus have risen exponentially since last Thursday, when the NCAA canceled all remaining championship events of the academic year. Sankey, who at first appeared surprised by such a far-reaching suspension, said Wednesday that the NCAA's decision "would be in the category of right decisions."
Since then, except for Sunday, the league office has held a daily conference call with the athletic directors of its member schools, Sankey said, to identify the upcoming issues and how much the future events on the league schedule will be affected.
Sankey said he is "certainly open" to all players (not only seniors) within spring sports regaining a year of eligibility, since their seasons were cut short. The NCAA sent its member schools a letter last week saying such an action would be "appropriate" and that the details would be finalized at a later date.
Winter sports, such as basketball and gymnastics, finished regular seasons but had their postseasons cut short, which Sankey said says there should also "be a conversation" about whether eligibility for those players are also renewed.
Sankey said the SEC's compliance staff put together an eight-page analysis of the logistical issues that would come with renewing a year of eligibility for all players in spring sports, problems such as whether roster limits would increase.
The details should be finalized sooner rather than later, Sankey said.
"I hope we move through those rapidly," Sankey said, "because I think one of the assets for our younger people is knowing definitively what their eligibility status will be going forward."
This week, the league was supposed to have an officiating training session for football, which has now been transitioned into a video training session for the league's officials.
The SEC has not yet canceled its spring meetings in Destin, Florida, from May 26-29, where the member schools' presidents and athletic directors convene to discuss league issues and policy. Sankey said the league is considering other options "given the practicalities and realities presented to us at this time."
Next up would be SEC Media Days in Atlanta from July 13-16, the annual event coaches and players from each team attend, drumming up interest for the upcoming season.
"We’re going to prepare for disruption," Sankey said, "but we’re going to plan as if in July we’ll have the media days opportunity as scheduled, and that’s the best answer I can give you at this moment.”
And will there even be a football season at all? Could the virus stretch as far as the fall sports like volleyball and soccer and cross country?
Sankey said the league is focused "on preparing for the 2021 academic year, the fall seasons, as currently scheduled." The conference is leaning on the guidance of the nation's health officials with its uncertain future, and he said "I have optimism" that those sports will occur.
"We have taken measures, as have our colleague conferences at this time," Sankey said. "I think if I read those health leaders, they say we’re going to have a period of time to see what happens with the growth of these cases, and we’ll make decisions down the road. So for me, our responsibility is to continue to support the public health decision-making, but also to be prepared to do our work as assigned to us."