No date has been specified for the virtual version of SEC Media Days later this summer. The event was originally scheduled for next week (July 13-16). If anything, it is likely to be later than those dates, not earlier, given the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 college football season.
By Matt Zemek
It is entirely understandable that SEC coaches are trying to wait for more information to emerge before speaking forcefully about COVID-19. We are all in the midst of a highly fluid situation, with news and numbers swirling around us and different states acting in different ways, which confuses and clouds the issue. I get it. This is a confounding, complicated, unfamiliar situation for all of us. We, as Americans, might have a wide range of opinions on the subject, but we can all agree that we didn’t want this reality and we don’t have experience dealing with a global pandemic.
From that simple point of agreement — an acknowledgement that this sucks and we want it to get better — SEC coaches have a chance to create meaningful change. This change won’t guarantee that a college football season will be played, but it can certainly increase the chances a season can be played, which is what we all want.
It’s what the coaches want. It’s what players want. It’s what university presidents and athletic directors want.
We know the economy needs college football, but we know players need to be kept safe.
Coaches have a role to play here, and it doesn’t seem they have been out in front on this issue.
They can still make an impact.
Yes, I know that the Black Lives Matter protests have caught the attention of coaches who need to reaffirm the trust of their (largely black) players. Coaches have necessarily been preoccupied with that. Coaches are also trying to figure out practices and workouts while working around COVID-19 quarantines and self-isolation instances for infected or at-risk players. Coaches do have a lot on their plate, and it is plainly true that they have no playbook or manual for how to deal with a pandemic. They are learning on the fly along with the rest of us.
Coaches, especially in the SEC, and even more especially the most successful ones, are national and regional figures. They aren’t politicians, but if they ever did choose to run for office, a lot of people would vote for them. (Look at Tommy Tuberville in the state of Alabama.) When they talk, people listen.
Coaches — who, again, have a lot of questions and uncertainties swirling around them — might not realize what they can do, but it would be good if they at least tried.
Imagine Nick Saban, Ed Orgeron or Kirby Smart calling a major press conference or asking ESPN (which has very little live sports inventory to show right now) to reserve 30 minutes of airtime, and speaking on what college football needs to do to address the coronavirus.
Imagine what that might achieve.
No, it wouldn’t create instant agreement from the many different stakeholders in college football. It wouldn’t get the Pac-12 and ACC Commissioners on the same page. It wouldn’t make USC fans in Los Angeles agree with Alabama fans on the checklist college football would need to complete in order to be ready for the season. It wouldn’t immediately make governors, mayors, or county officials change their minds.
It would, however, get people talking. It would cause some important people to think a little more deeply about the implications of their actions.
Coaches don’t have to say, “We’re going to play this season no matter what.” They also don’t have to say, “We should just pack it up and not play, period.”
Coaches should be able to encourage the larger national populace — at least the populace which consists of football fans — to exhibit and observe the best practices in containing the virus, and in trying to do things which would increase the odds of a season being played.
Coaches don’t need to shame any portion of their fan base. They don’t need to act like zealots who disproportionately value football over other concerns. They could try to strike a balance and appeal to larger constituencies which carry some disagreements, but are unified in wanting to have football played in safe conditions.
SEC coaches might think they can wait it out until SEC Media Days. To be sure, that will be a time when coaches can offer a lot of comments on carrying out the juggling act of helping the economy (by playing the season) while also keeping athletes safe.
Yet, I don’t think coaches should wait. They need to capture public attention now so that the larger college football community’s response to COVID-19 can become stronger, better, and more galvanized. That wouldn’t guarantee a season will be played, but it would improve the odds.
Anything which can do that is something coaches ought to be doing right now… or at least, very soon.
Sooner than when SEC Media Days eventually take place.