Top Georgia Republicans: Let’s play college football this season

08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference with U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Georgia’s top Republicans have a message for the South’s premier college football conferences: Don’t cancel the season.

Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston each said they’re confident that sports officials and college administrators have drafted a plan to allow games to go forward this year.

The Big Ten and the Pac-12 conferences have already called off their football seasons, but the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences have developed plans to play.

“Across the South, college football is a sacred tradition, and I want to see it played this year if we can ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff,” Kemp said in a statement.

“Based on recent discussions with university leaders and sports officials, I am confident that they are putting the health and well-being of our student athletes first.”

In an interview, Ralston praised the SEC for its “very safe procedure” and said he’s “optimistic we’re going to play football here in Georgia and in the South this year.”

“What’s been lost in this discussion until the last two or three days is the players – you have all these players who want to play football,” Ralston said, mentioning several star athletes. “They’re going to be safer in that kind of environment than if they shut down the football program and send them home.”

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, left, and House Speaker David Ralston are two key figures in whether the General Assembly passes a hate-crimes bill this year. Ralston has called on the state Senate to pass House Bill 426 as is. If the bill is amended in the Senate, it would have to go back for a final vote in the House, where it won by a slim margin in 2019 and could meet failure in another vote. Duncan, the head of the Senate, has said he thinks the bill needs changes. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

The ACC and SEC are chugging ahead with plans to play. The SEC pushed back preseason camp to Aug. 17 and a Sept. 26 start date for a 10-game conference-only schedule. Georgia Tech has started its preseason camp in preparation for a Sept. 7 kickoff.

The pandemic, meanwhile, has continued to exact an increasing toll in Georgia. The state reported more than 100 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday for the second straight day, and the state set weekly records for reported deaths in each of the past three weeks.

The start of football season is a political and personal issue to the two Republicans, both die-hard Georgia fans. Kemp, an Athens native, went so far as to launch a “Wear A Mask” tour in July with a warning to students: Wear a mask or risk no college football this year.

Ralston, too, said he’s been closely involved in discussions with administrators, and that he’s urged University of Georgia president Jere Morehead to push ahead with the plans.

“They’ll have to follow all the guidelines,” said Ralston. “It just makes a lot of sense to keep moving forward.”

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