Life in 2020: The SEC postpones four of seven weekend games

100320 Athens: Georgia fans Rod Carnes (left) and his son Colin mask up as they arrive in Sanford Stadium to watch their team take on Auburn in a SEC college football game on Saturday, Oct 3, 2020 in Athens.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
100320 Athens: Georgia fans Rod Carnes (left) and his son Colin mask up as they arrive in Sanford Stadium to watch their team take on Auburn in a SEC college football game on Saturday, Oct 3, 2020 in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

We don’t know where the coronavirus is headed, though current numbers suggest it’s nowhere good. We don’t know how history will view the decision to play – or not to play – a college football season amid a pandemic. (At differing times, the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted to do both.) But this we know: Nov. 14, 2020, will be the strangest autumnal Saturday in the annals of the conference where It Just Means More.

Four of the SEC’s seven games set for Saturday have been postponed. Auburn-Mississippi State was scratched Monday. Alabama-LSU and Texas A&M-Tennessee were pushed back Tuesday. At 10:52 a.m. EST Wednesday, the league announced Georgia’s game at Missouri was off. Thus did the SEC’s weekly teleconference feature eight coaches discussing how it felt to be staring at an unscheduled open date.

Said Georgia’s Kirby Smart: “Mental agility is definitely the definition of 2020. You have a plan for Plan A and a plan for Plan B.”

Said Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz: “It’s about the hundredth time we’ve had to adjust, going back to the spring. The name of the 2020 season is flexibility and adjustment.”

Said Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose Tigers will go a fortnight between games: “We were fortunate in that we got to play six straight weeks. We always knew there was going to be a time when (we couldn’t).”

Said Florida’s Dan Mullen, who had COVID-19 and whose game with Arkansas is still on, though Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman has tested positive: “Not much shocks me anymore."

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There’s a reason MLB was adamant its World Series must end in October. Speculation has long held that the virus would spike upward when the weather turned colder and folks spent more times indoors. The impact of Halloween itself cannot be dismissed. Reasons for gathering – Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day – have left dents in the concept of social distancing. Add in Election Day and post-election celebrations/protests, and there are reasons why our nation’s COVID numbers are reaching new highs daily.

SEC higher-ups have adopted a bit of shorthand – “meeting, eating and greeting.” Those are the times when the virus is apt to spread. According to commissioner Greg Sankey, there has yet to be a case of the virus spreading from team to team or player to player during a game. “It’s out of field, out of athletic-department view,” he said, and there’s the issue. The NBA, the NHL and MLB completed their postseasons by bubbling up; that’s still not a viable option during a college football regular season, and maybe not during a playoff.

The SEC has completed 40 of its 70 scheduled games. Said Smart, whose Bulldogs have seen their schedule rearranged twice: “I certainly think that if somebody had told us this in June or July, there probably would have been a little shock to it that the efficiency rate is so high.” Full disclosure: Back in July, yours truly wasn’t sure there’d be a collegiate game played anywhere this fall.

For as far as it has come, the SEC has miles to go to make it to Dec. 19, when it’s set to crown its champion at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. All of college football does. The past few weeks have been hard. The next will be harder.

College teams live, duh, on college campuses. SEC teams live on Southern campuses, and some Southern states have been less than avid, shall we say, in their embrace of masks. We’re within sight of Thanksgiving, which is the utter definition of meeting, eating and greeting. There’s reason to believe a vaccine will be available soon. There’s no reason to think one will be available before 2021.

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Sankey followed the SEC’s 14 coaches on Wednesday’s teleconference. This correspondent asked about his level of confidence that the league would make it to Dec. 19. His response:

“I was asked last week how I felt about the season being completed. I’ve run 41 marathons in my life, and I’ve learned that halfway in a marathon is not 13.1 miles; it’s someplace before Mile 20 and 21. I said, ‘Let me get through the games of Thanksgiving and I’ll feel comfortable.’ Obviously, that’s changed. I have to acknowledge (being) troubled by what’s happened this week with our postponements. There’s still an opportunity to focus on the 19th, but we have to adjust further within our programs to maintain the health that we did such a great job on early on – our discipline to support teams and travel and meals and engagement that fosters the ability to get to the 19th. I’m certainly shaken but not deterred.”

The second-most overused word of 2020 is “uncertain.” (The first is “unprecedented.”) Nobody can know what’s coming, in college football or in real life, because none of us have seen a year like this. As sports began to resume over the summer, we all held our breath. The NBA and the NHL and MLB made it through, but none of them faced the set of dynamics that college football does.

The nation’s most famous coach tested positive – and then, three times over 72 hours, negative. The nation’s most famous player missed the season’s biggest game because of COVID. Forget being day-to-day. We’re all going hour-to-hour, hoping for the best but steeling ourselves against something less. As much as we’ve learned, so much remains unknowable. In our wildest dreams, could anyone have foreseen a November weekend when CBS would be airing the Masters and not Alabama-LSU?

But here we are. It’s 2020. Not much us shocks us anymore.

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