SEC has no room for error

Scooter Hobbs

HOOVER, Ala. — OK, let’s just go with the ultimate Doomsday Scenario.

Let’s take, oh, why not make it Alabama? And let’s assume the Tide is rolling along like Bama tends to do, eating up everything in its path, apparently heading to yet another national championship that still won’t be enough to sate Nick Saban.

But late in the season, suddenly that Covid rascal shows up in the Tide dressing room. A positive test here, another over there, followed by contact tracing run amuck.

And the Tide, lacking available players, can’t play its scheduled game with, oh, just for fun, let’s make it LSU on Nov. 6.

One less win probably wouldn’t hurt an undefeated Tide in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee.

But how would the CFP jury view it if that unplayed game went into the record books as an Alabama loss?

Would it keep the Tide out of the SEC Championship game if the Tigers had only one loss and got the tie-breaker due to the faux “head-to-head” matchup?

Can you imagine the uproar in Tuscaloosa if it kept another otherwise powerhouse Tide team out of the playoff?

Far-fetched, perhaps, but only slightly.

There are now vaccines, after all, that should prevent such drastic outcomes.

But it’s still a free country and there’s no law that anybody has to go to the needle.

So if Commissioner Greg Sankey had a central message for his schools in his state of the conference chat at this week’s SEC Media Days, it was this: Get vaccinated now.

If anybody was on the fence, he said, consider that college football may well depend on it.

“Vaccination motivation,” was his catchy phrase for it.

“With six weeks to go before kickoff, now is the time to seek that full vaccination,” Sankey said.

It’s still a free country and he can’t make anybody do it. Neither can coaches, apparently.

Without mentioning any names, Sankey said that only six of the 14 SEC schools were at the 80-percent mark for vaccinations.

“That number needs to grow and grow rapidly,” he said.

It’s a magic number of sorts —when a team reaches that threshold, its players are no longer subjected to the frequent testing that was such a hassle last year.

This, of course, has sent the media on a witch hunt to narrow down the 80-percenters.

For whatever reasons, most of the coaches who’ve been here so far, don’t want to get specific.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his Bulldogs were at 85 percent. Tennessee’s Josh Heupel suggested the Vols were just below the magic number.

LSU’s Ed Orgeron was Cajun evasive, but the The Advocate of Baton Rouge quoted sources in the program as saying the Tigers were at 90 percent. No, I have no idea why nobody could go on the record with good news.

But back to that Doomsday Scenario.

Last year, with no vaccine available, there were work-arounds.

The SEC did a remarkable job of adjusting schedules, rearranging them on the fly and in the end got all but two games played.

There were safety nets built in, extra off weeks and two end-of-season dates that ended up being chock-full of makeup games.

That’s off the table for this year. Sankey isn’t going through that again.

“You’re expected to play as scheduled,” he said. “That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won’t be rescheduled.”

The result?

“The ‘forfeit’ word comes up at this point,” Sankey said.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had said roughly the same thing at his conference’s media days last week.

It’s not yet written in stone, but it’s what Sankey will propose before the season starts.

“We’ve not built in the kind of time we did last year, particularly at the end of the season, to accommodate disruption,” Sankey said. “And unless we’re going to do that, our teams are going to have to be fully prepared to play their season as scheduled, which is why embedded in my remarks is the vaccination motivation.”

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at””Scooter Hobbs updated

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