Auburn University is deferring to state orders and guidance from governing bodies when addressing its uncertain sports future, all as the calendar inches closer to the fall semester’s start date on Aug. 17 and all as coronavirus cases in Lee County continue to rise.
In short, Auburn doesn’t know if it’s playing football this fall, and it doesn’t know when it will know either.
“Decisions regarding football have not yet been made by the NCAA, SEC or the individual states,” Auburn University’s director of public affairs Brian Keeter told the Opelika-Auburn News this week.
“A timeline for those decisions isn’t yet known,” he added.
Auburn publicly passed the buck to the state government on Thursday when publishing online its new plan for operation, which is dubbed ‘A Healthier U’ and which details changes that have come to campus policy — including the requirement that face coverings be worn by everyone in university buildings.
“We definitely hope to play all sports this fall, but will rely on state health orders to make these determinations,” the site reads in a FAQ section, providing its current answer to whether there will be football on campus this fall. “We will provide information as it becomes available.”
The state of Alabama’s current ‘Safer at Home’ order runs through July 31 and allows certain venue openings only at occupancy limits, and allows certain athletic activity only subject to social distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines.
Auburn’s football team has been participating in voluntary workouts in a bubble on campus since early June, after players were tested upon arrival then traced in a plan devised by Auburn team physician Michael Goodlett.
But the spreading of the virus outside those walls continues to strain the local hospital. The East Alabama Medical Center’s data Thursday revealed 259 of its 314 beds are occupied by patients, with 27 of its 30 critical care beds in use. Per the hospital, the state of Alabama announced 2,164 new cases arising Wednesday, by far the most in a single day since the virus started to spread.
The SEC, meanwhile, continues talks among representatives from member institutions after the Big Ten announced Thursday that its teams will play conference-only schedules this fall. Reports swirled Thursday saying that the ACC and Pac-12 were expected to follow that lead, putting Auburn’s non-conference game with North Carolina and Alabama’s non-conference game with USC in jeopardy.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement: “The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to SEC fall sports. We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.”