SEC commissioner Greg Sankey eyes other leagues' decisions on playing but is focused on his conference

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN that he will watch the other Power 5 conferences "with interest" regarding their upcoming decisions on whether to play football this fall, but his focus is on his own conference.

"We believe we set a responsible plan," he said Tuesday. "We have delayed our kickoff to Sept. 26, which is more than three weeks after all of our universities will be open for classes. Our responsibility is to make sure our campuses can open in the best way possible, and it was a wise decision to slow down the start of the season, and we've adjusted preseason practice and done that in a way I don't think anyone else has.

"We've got people in pads and helmets at this point. We've been on a slow build since June 8, and I think that's been very responsible and is at the center of supporting the health of our student-athletes in the right way. That decision-making has been and will continue to be our focus.

"The decisions of others are information points for us," he said, "but not determinative for us."

Sankey said the SEC presidents met on Monday for an "informational conversation" and that the league remains in the same place it was Friday. When asked if the presidents were meeting again on Thursday, he said, "We'll let each day take care of itself right now."

The unknowns of the lasting impact of the coronavirus on the heart have become a critical sticking point for some university presidents and athletic officials. Sankey told ESPN that whenever issues have arisen, the SEC has sought input to learn about and address those issues.

"We'll do that with any circumstance around COVID-19," he said. "... Everyone is going to provide the right kind of care and we're going to seek full explanations -- full explanations -- of what's happening around the health issues associated with COVID."

As for the possibility of teams jumping conferences for a season if their leagues decide not to play this fall, Sankey said he hadn't given it much thought but added, "I don't sense that as a reality."

In another interview Tuesday with "Good Morning America," Sankey said he believes the SEC has created a "healthy environment" with its on-campus bubbles.

"You have to remember that our student-athletes are really in their own bubble on our campuses," he told "Good Morning America." "We have athletics programs with embedded health care professionals. We as a conference in each of our universities have taken the virus seriously from the beginning, and the comparative is should we simply let people out in society where we don't know whether they have COVID or not?

"We've been involved in testing and care and been involved in following local health policies continuously, and I think that has provided a healthy environment."

Sankey also appeared Tuesday on the "Dan Patrick Show" and discussed the possibility of the SEC being the only major conference to play football this fall.

"I don't think that's the right direction, really," he said. "Could we? Certainly. There's a difference between can you do something and should you do something in life.

"We've actually set up our schedule with our own health protocols; we could, if that's the circumstance, operate on our own. I'm not sure that's the wisest direction."

Sankey said the SEC's medical advisory group remains comfortable with the safety of current summer workout plans.

"Were that advice to change, it certainly would be a stopping point," he said. "The indicators are we can right now do what we're doing in a healthy way."

Asked what he would tell college football fans worried the season is on the verge of collapse, Sankey first pointed to the steps each fan can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing facial coverings and practicing social distancing.

"I'd keep in mind we haven't made final, final decisions -- there is still some time -- but we've set a start date," Sankey said. "I'd be encouraged by that if I'm a college football fan. We announced opponents. I'd be encouraged by that. We have some medical care guidelines. That's encouraging. We're still [here] today. On Sunday, it was all over if I read social media, but we're still here."

ESPN's Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.