SEC delay heightens uncertainty for fall sports
There’s more uncertainty than ever as to whether college football will start on time in 2020 — or kick off at all — and we’re about 50 days from Missouri’s scheduled season opener Sept. 5 against Central Arkansas at Faurot Field.
The Southeastern Conference announced Tuesday that it will delay the beginning of all fall sports through at least Aug. 31, canceling all competitions before that date for Tigers volleyball, women’s soccer and cross country.
No football games are impacted as part of the postponement, as the earliest date a league team plays a game on the gridiron is Sept. 3.
"Our leadership has had to make very difficult decisions in regards to the 2020 season,” Missouri women’s soccer head coach Bryan Blitz said in a statement. “While this has been an ever-evolving situation, our top priority has always been the safety of our student-athletes and our community. We will continue to move forward and prepare for our return to competition."
As the uncertainty grows, daily cases of the coronavirus in America also climb.
Perhaps the SEC’s greatest asset at times — having such a large chunk of the country glued to televisions or in packed stadiums in the 11 states their member programs represent — has become more of a liability now.
Missouri has the lowest testing rate of any of the SEC’s 11 states, according to the latest data from each state’s health authority compiled by The Atlantic.
The league has a pair of schools in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively. Thirteen of the 14 schools are public, state-funded universities, with Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, the lone private institution.
Of Missouri’s statewide population of 6,137,428, a total of 495,777 tests were reported as of Monday afternoon. That means Missouri’s testing rate is 80.78 per every 1,000 residents. The higher the testing rate, the higher percentage of the population has been tested for the coronavirus.
The average testing rate in states with SEC schools is 110.72 per 1,000, as the combined populations of the 11 states in the conference total nearly 100 million and a combined 10,985,809 tests have been administered in those states.
Missouri reported just shy of 28,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, the second-lowest of the 11 states, trailing only Kentucky’s 19,653 cases. As of Tuesday, Missouri had reported nearly 29,000 cases after adding over 900 cases in a one-day span.
Kentucky also has the lowest statewide infection rate in SEC territory at 439.89 per 100,000 residents, or about one in every 227 people.
Missouri has the second-lowest infection rate, with one in every 220 people in the statewide population testing positive for COVID-19.
Those two states represent major outliers from the rest of the data in the SEC footprint. The third-lowest infection rate among SEC states is Texas, where about one in every 110 people have been reported as infected. Despite that, Texas hospitals are strained for resources, open beds and even staff.
The 11-state average is above one in every 95 people testing positive for the coronavirus. The highest infection rate of the group comes in Louisiana, where about one in every 59 people has tested positive.
The 11 states where SEC schools reside have reported 1,039,293 COVID-19 cases, with 19,332 deaths, and counting. That's just more than 19 people out of every 100,000 passing away from the coronavirus across those states.
Missouri’s COVID-19 death rate is below the conference’s 11-state average at about 18 deaths per 100,000 residents.
“(Time is) an asset that’s slipping away, that’s rapidly slipping away,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said on Monday on SEC Network about waiting to make a decision about playing football this fall. “... And the fact that we’ve seen increasing cases over the last few weeks across our region is not a positive indicator.”
MU football’s currently scheduled quartet of SEC road games are in the states of Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Among those four states, only Tennessee’s infection rate is lower than one in every 100 people testing positive for the coronavirus. The Tigers are scheduled to face Tennessee on Oct. 3 in Knoxville.
South Carolina’s COVID-19 death rate is by far the lowest in the conference’s 11 states, with approximately two people passing away per 100,000 from the coronavirus.
Florida, second to only Texas in terms of overall population with more than 21 million residents, leads the conference’s states with 282,435 cases. On Tuesday, Florida broke its one-day record for coronavirus deaths.
Mississippi has the lowest overall population of the 11 states at just under 3 million residents, but its infection rate is the third-highest in the conference at one in every 81 people statewide testing positive for COVID-19.
SEC opposition from the states of Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee are slated to play in Columbia this fall, with a Thanksgiving weekend matchup against Arkansas still scheduled to take place at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
In the fluid situation surrounding COVID-19, Sankey said Monday that the SEC is not expecting to make a final decision on fall sports until the end of July.
“I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone, but there are challenges around testing. ... And in order to facilitate what may come, the opportunity to play, that reality around testing is going to be very important,” Sankey said.
Columbia Daily Tribune news editor Rudi Keller contributed to this report.