On Thursday, the SEC officially announced that it planned on having a 10-game conference only schedule that would start September 26th.
However, on Wednesday, several players raised concern for their safety but was told that positive cases on their teams were a “given.”
The Washington Post has obtained an audio recording of the players expressing their concern. The meeting included more than a dozen SEC players, members of the conference’s medical advisory board and SEC officials, including Commissioner Greg Sankey.
The recordings really show how the SEC officials are and aren’t reassuring the athletes they need to make the season happen during the coronavirus pandemic as they try to keep the multibillion-dollar industry afloat.
“There are going to be outbreaks,” one official told players on the call. “We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”
We have seen some top programs having to shut down their workouts due to outbreaks within the team including Michigan State and Rutgers. Players in the SEC and other conferences do have the option to opt out of the 2020 season and will keep their year of eligibility. Just a handful of players have decided to take that route so far.
Caleb Farley, an NFL bound cornerback from Virginia Tech said he lost his mother to breast cancer and couldn’t stomach the idea of losing another family member. For some, the risk of playing outweighs the reward.
Players on the SEC call expressed similar concerns. One player asked, “For so much unknown in the air right now, is it worth having a football season without certainty?”
Greg Sankey responded to the question, “Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible, with the understanding there aren’t any guarantees in life.”
Another big concern for the players was the reopening of the college campuses. When the players returned the campuses were basically empty and most of the people, they interacted with were in their own bubble.
MoMo Sanogo, a linebacker at Ole Miss, asked why his school planned on bringing students back for full classes. He noted that he has four classes per week and fears some of the students may go to bars or parties and then unknowingly infect the football players.
The answer really shows the pressure that university presidents are under to reopen the schools since they rely so heavily on college football for prestige and revenue.
“It’s one of those things where if students don’t come back to campus, then the chances of having a football season are almost zero,” an official who did not identify himself said.
The official suggested that he remind the people around him to be responsible. “As un-fun as it sounds,” the official said, “the best thing that you can do is just try to encourage others to act more responsibly and not put yourself in those kinds of situations. I’m very comfortable with what we’ve done on campus. I’m concerned about what happens from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m.”
Keeath Magee II, a Texas A&M linebacker, noticed the uncertainty in the officials answers and wondered if starting a season with so many unanswered questions would be something, they end up regretting.
“You guys have answered a lot of questions the best way that you guys could, and we really appreciate it. But as much as you guys don’t know … it’s just kind of not good enough,” he said. “We want to play. We want to see football. We want to return to normal as much as possible. But it’s just that with all this uncertainty, all this stuff that’s still circulating in the air, y’all know it kind of leaves some of us still scratching my head. ... I feel like the college campus is the one thing that you can’t control.”
Sankey noted how much decision-makers have learned in the past four months and said they are committed to creating the ““best environment possible in this new reality.”
Players also expressed concern over the lasting effects of the virus for the people that do end up getting it. However, like the rest of the world, the officials do not really know the answer to that.
Marshall Crowther, a sports medicine physician at Ole Miss answered, “The problem is a lot of this we don’t know.” He noted most people don’t seem to have lasting effects but there hasn’t been enough time to know everything.
Another player then asked, “If we were your kids, would y’all let us play in this same football season with the same protocols and uncertainty?”
An official responded, “One of my sons has played baseball for the last five, six weeks,” said one official, who didn’t identify himself. “And I can tell you, I have a couple of kids that have played soccer over the last four weeks. I don’t have great concerns about them contracting it during play.”
SEC spokesman, Herb Vincent said that the players found the meeting “productive”, but they wish to have another one which Vincent noted will be scheduled.
You can listen to the obtained recordings here.