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 In this Sept. 7, 2019, file photo, Nebraska fans are shown in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boulder, Colo. With each passing day it is becoming apparent the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make the goal to have all 130 major college football teams, spread across 41 states, start the upcoming season at the same time, and play the same number of games, difficult to achieve. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The first step toward college football in the fall is in place, but there is still a lot of uncertainty moving foward.    

All but one of the 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference have indicated they plan to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, the first of many steps needed to resume football and other sports.

South Carolina and Tennessee on Wednesday became the latest schools in the nation’s top football conference to announce their plans, joining Alabama, LSU and others.

Vanderbilt hasn’t announced its plans for the fall. Every other school has been more vocal in their intentions to reopen their buildings while students and faculty participate for now in remote learning through the summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter didn’t close the door on the June 1 return that Arkansas is hoping for, he but said he hopes to bring student-athletes to campus by July 1 and mentioned that coaches need 6-8 weeks to get their athletes ready for competition. He has had conversations with health professionals on a consistent basis and is putting together a plan to get athletes back safely that includes testing.

Reopening campuses is seen as a mandatory step before sports can resume. The commissioners of the nation’s major college football leagues have stressed that college sports cannot return from the shutdown until campuses have reopened.

Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, has also said widespread testing for the coronavirus will be crucial to having college sports in the fall, especially contact sports such as football and basketball.

At LSU, home to the national champion Tigers, LSU Interim President Tom Galligan told The Daily Reveille newspaper there are definite plans to return to campus this fall — even if details about football remain unclear.

‘’It may be a little different in some ways, but I think it’s important to play the season, and I hope we do so,’’ Galligan said.

The season begins Aug. 29, though SEC schools don’t begin play until the following week.

SEC officials continue to strike an optimistic tone along with their member schools.

If there isn’t a season, SEC head man Greg Sankey figures we’ve all got bigger problems than missing football.

“If we’re not playing football in the fall,” Sankey said Thursday on WJXL-FM in Jacksonville, Florida, “I’d leave the football field and be thinking about what’s happening around us. If football is not an active part of our life in the fall, what’s happening around us becomes a real big question societally, economically and culturally.”

‘’Our current focus is on preparing to play the 2020 football season as scheduled,’’ the league said in a statement Wednesday. “If it is determined that we must pivot to another solution in the interest of public health, we’ll do so at the appropriate time.’’

The 14 SEC schools spread across 11 states being able to act in a collective fashion. Even on such a boiled-down level compared to college football nationwide, there are hurdles to clear as different states are attempting to reopen at different rates. Louisiana, for example, is at least a couple of weeks behind states like Florida and Georgia.

The coronavirus is affecting different regions of the country in different ways, prompting a wide range of responses to fight the spread and revive economies.

With each passing day it is becoming apparent the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make this difficult to achieve. Despite the best intentions of conference leaders, the possibility exists of college football being played in SEC country before it begins in Pac-12 territory — or something else entirely.

nContact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or bburrus@gwcommonwealth.com.

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