SEC football players raised concerns about the upcoming football season during a call with conference officials and members of the conference’s medical advisory board on Wednesday, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.
The video conference, which was supposed to be confidential, came the day before the SEC announced its plans to push back the start of its football season to Sept. 26 and featured a number of players from the Student-Athlete Leadership Council expressing their fear of competing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are going to be outbreaks,” an SEC official told players during the call. “We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”
At one point, a player asked, “For so much unknown in the air right now, is it worth having a football season without certainty?”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey responded: “Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible, with the understanding there aren’t any guarantees in life.”
Players have the ability to opt out of the season and not lose their scholarships, but so far no players from the SEC have done so.
On Thursday, cornerback Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech, which plays in the ACC, announced that he would not be playing this season and instead would start preparing for the NFL draft.
The SEC released a statement following the publication of The Washington Post’s report, saying that the call was intended “to be confidential to encourage honest conversation.”
“The information we gather while engaging with student-athletes helps inform Conference decisions and provides an opportunity to share information with our campus leaders to further enhance our continuing support of the student-athlete experience,” the statement said. “The student-athletes on the call expressed appreciation for the honest dialogue, indicated the discussion was benefits and requested a similar videoconference in the future. As we all work to adapt to the realities of COVID-19, we will continue to support the health of student-athletes.”
Last month a player from another of the Power 5 conferences had a similar call with school and conference officials about returning to competition. The player, who spoke to ESPN on the condition of anonymity, said he came away from the call feeling uneasy.
“I don’t think there’s the right protocol for us to play safely,” he said.
In doing so, the player also acknowledged how much pressure there is to play football since so many college athletic departments around the country can’t survive without the massive revenue the sport brings in each year.
“If I’m being real,” the player told ESPN, “it’s just about generating money.”
During the SEC call, Ole Miss linebacker MoMo Sanogo said he was worried about students returning to campus and not taking the proper safety protocols by going to bars and parties and spreading the virus to athletes.
Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II said he appreciated the open dialogue with the conference.
“But as much as much as you guys don’t know … it’s just kind of not good enough,” Magee said. “We want to play. We want to see football. We want to return to normal as much as possible. But it’s just that with all this uncertainty, all this stuff that’s still circulating in the air, y’all know it kind of leaves some of us still scratching my head. Especially here at Texas A&M, I just don’t know. I just feel like the college campus is the one thing that you can’t control.”