Greg Sankey, commissioner for the NCAA Southeastern Conference, speaks at the 2018 SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Photo/Tony Walsh)

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey held a teleconference call on Wednesday to speak to reporters for the first time since the conference’s decision to cancel all spring athletic events amid the concerns of COVID-19.

Many of the NCAA and SEC’s actions toward the developing crisis have been made. The SEC men’s basketball tournament was canceled after one day of competition. All NCAA winter and spring sports championships were canceled, including the highly anticipated NCAA men’s basketball tournament a mere three days before Selection Sunday.

However, a various number of questions still remain. What’s the likelihood of schools having spring football practice after April 15 and could the upcoming football season be pushed to a later date?

Sankey also fielded questions regarding whether winter sport student-athletes could gain eligibility relief and the potential for baseball to be played in the fall, which he reserved judgment for as he admittedly hadn’t given the idea any thought.

Here are three of The Red & Black’s key takeaways from Sankey’s teleconference:

‘Pretty narrow’ chance of spring football practice after April 15

Although there hasn’t been an official announcement on whether spring football will commence after the SEC’s suspension ends on April 15, the writing is on the wall.

All spring football games have been canceled along with each school’s pro day for former players moving toward the NFL. With the CDC’s recommendation that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place within the next eight weeks, the SEC will likely extend its April 15 suspension on practices and team meetings.

Sankey didn’t give a definite no for future spring football practices, but he made it clear it would be difficult to see spring football practices taking place.

“I’m not going to be overly optimistic about the return to spring practice,” Sankey said. “We haven’t fully foreclosed that opportunity, but I think practically that window is very narrow.”

Possible postponement of football season

Sankey stated multiple times that the conference’s focus was toward keeping everything on schedule for fall athletics — most notably the start of football season in early September.

There hasn’t been much discussion from the conference on the risk of a schedule change for football. Because of the unpredictability of how long COVID-19 will halt collegiate and professional sports, he said it’s too early to tell.

“We’ll think about everything going forward because we’re being guided by public health information and decision making,” Sankey said. “But my hope is we can return to our normal organized activities, our normal experiences. But we’ll have to see.”

Sankey said he doesn’t have a timetable yet because that decision isn’t completely up to him.

“I'm not an immunologist. I'm not an infectious disease researcher,” Sankey said. “We’re going to have to trust the guidance of the medical community and the science community in making those decisions.”

Eligibility relief for winter sports student-athletes

On March 13, the NCAA granted eligibility relief to all Division 1 spring sports student-athletes, but a decision regarding eligibility relief for winter sports student-athletes has yet to be made.

The decision for spring sports student-athletes to receive eligibility relief seemed to be the easier one to make. Sports like softball and baseball were barely one month into their respective seasons.

In reference to winter sports student-athletes, Sankey is open and onboard to having the conversation, but he’s still unsure what the next steps for the SEC or NCAA will be.

“The first read is that’s an appropriate step, from my perspective, yes,” Sankey said. “We have to understand the full set of implications. I hope we’ll move through those rapidly because I think one of the assets for our young people is knowing definitively what their eligibility status will be going forward.”

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