The SEC’s delayed kickoff date targeting Sept. 26 allows the conference to read and react as dominoes tumble across the country — and as students start spilling onto campuses like Auburn’s this week.
The Mid-American Conference on Saturday announced it would postpone sports through the fall with new plans to try to play in the spring. On the same day, the Big Ten Conference put a pause on its football practices going to full pads.
SEC schools, though, aren’t scheduled to open football practice until Aug. 17, which is incidentally also the scheduled first day of the fall semester at Auburn.
By the time the day of Auburn football’s new scheduled season opener rolls around in late September, the university will have gone through a month of operation, and athletics will have had its chance to read the landscape as the world continues to grip with the coronavirus pandemic.
Long undisputed leaders of college football on the field, the SEC is now content to give itself time to react and to follow — with plenty around the conference often acknowledging that the virus is bigger than a game.
Students living on campus are set to start coasting back into Auburn on Monday, carrying truckloads of their familiar belongings, and some face masks to go with them. Check-in tents have already been hoisted on lawns near university housing, even as an uncertainty hangs over Auburn just as it does every other corner of the country.
The East Alabama Medical Center nearby on Friday celebrated having 34 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, marking a new low since July 4, though officials have called for individuals to be even more vigilant with their mitigation measures as schools are opening.
They fear a new spike. But as far as sports are concerned, by waiting for Sept. 26, the SEC has time to figure out if it’s going to pack it in for the spring like the MAC — the first Division I FBS conference to make that call.
The SEC on Friday finalized the opponents for each team in its new 10-game, conference-only plan for the season, but it has yet to announce dates for those games outside the target opening day of Sept. 26.
The ACC is set to start its season two weeks earlier, with Miami playing UAB on Sept. 10 and the bulk of the league playing openers on Sept. 12.
Auburn saw two players opt out of football season last week, including standout linebacker Chandler Wooten, who said he is expecting to become a father in November, and reserve defensive back Traivon Leonard, who says he has contracted COVID-19 and he has faced grim symptoms that would prevent him from playing at his usual ability this year.
The vast majority of athletes at Auburn surely want to play if it’s possible, but for now the program joins the SEC in reading the landscape off the field, and adjusting plans on the field after.