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SEC’s Greg Sankey reacts to Saban positive COVID test, emphasizes continued vigilance

On a day when it was announced that Alabama head coach Nick Saban had tested positive for COVID-19 and that the LSU-Florida game had been postponed, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey emphasized continued adherence to established health protocols.

Sankey began his Wednesday appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show” by reciting a line from a preseason presentation he made in front of a group of athletic directors.

“‘Once we begin we will encounter circumstances we cannot currently imagine,'” the SEC’s leader recalled telling the group.

Sankey elaborated further to Finebaum, “And while we’re surprised at what happens, we’re not surprised. That’s part of preparation and conversation. But we all have work to do to stay healthy and all pull off a season in a positive way.”

As he has done throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Sankey expressed a thoughtful and measured approach to the day’s news.

“We’ll have to see going forward,” he remarked. “Obviously, we’re attentive at Florida given the information shared about the numbers of people involved. We want teams that are close to that margin, which we really don’t have that many of them, to get well and get well quickly so that we can move forward. But just as we’ve seen in the last few moments [with the Saban positive test] the health of all of our participants is at the forefront of our mind.”

Sankey outlined that student-athletes and staff members go through testing Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at a minimum. He described the Thursday tests as being the ones “where you hold your breath” knowing their importance to the weekend’s games.

The protocols that conference members have put in place, such as masking and distancing, seek to limit transmission. However, they do not guarantee that positive tests will not happen, he explained.

“What it means is what we’ve set up, and our work with our local health departments, has worked in the way it was supposed to work to maintain health around our programs,” said Sankey.

Asked by Finebaum to describe his reaction to coaches not following the conference guidelines, Sankey was blunt in his assessment.

“Displeased would be the word,” offered Sankey. “We have to do better. We have to do better. And the news of this week reminds us that this is not some memo. All of those who can be somewhat skeptical of what’s happening around us, this is real life, this is 2020. This is functioning within a pandemic. We have to attentive and careful. Things will happen and then we have to adapt to them. But we have to meet the expectations and that’s being re-emphasized continuously.”

Last week, the SEC office warned coaches and athletic directors of potentially facing $100,000 fines plus suspensions for not adhering to masking protocols on the sidelines.

So far in the 2020 season, something that has not surprised Sankey has been what he referred to as “the intensity of competition.”

“I was asked about asterisks next to the season,” he said. “Whether it’s a questionable call on the field, or the intensity of a game or opinions about what happened. There are no asterisks. The ‘It Just Means More’ philosophy is alive and well in the league. But you see in real time, literally, the reality of a pandemic, of the sensitivities to health protocols, the attention to testing and systems that we’ve put in place doing what they were intended to do.”