The Southeastern Conference, a domineering juggernaut of college football, said Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic had forced it to postpone two more games this weekend, including the annual matchup between Alabama, which is ranked No. 1, and Louisiana State.
No. 5 Texas A&M’s game at Tennessee was also postponed on Tuesday, one day after the SEC delayed No. 24 Auburn’s trip to Mississippi State. Taken together alongside the swell of virus cases around the country, the postponements were piercing reminders that the season could be derailed one week at a time.
“While it is unfortunate to have multiple postponements in the same week, we began the season with the understanding interruptions to the schedule were possible and we have remained focused throughout the season on the health of everyone around our programs,” Greg Sankey, the league’s commissioner, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We must remain vigilant, within our programs and in our communities, to prevent the spread of the virus and to manage activities that contribute to these interruptions,” he said.
Officials said the games were postponed because positive tests for the virus and contact tracing rules had left L.S.U., Mississippi State and Texas A&M short-handed once other injuries were considered. Only Texas A&M publicly detailed the scope of its virus troubles, with its athletic director, Ross Bjork, saying there were “three active cases within our football program.”
“First and foremost is the health and safety of our players in our football program,” Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M’s coach, said in a statement. “I would never jeopardize their well-being and we will continue to follow all protocols.”
The SEC began a conference-only schedule on Sept. 26, and for the first several weeks, it navigated the pandemic without substantial interruptions. The first significant troubles emerged in mid-October, when the league postponed two games and Nick Saban, Alabama’s coach, tested positive for the virus and nearly missed the Crimson Tide’s game against Georgia. (Saban’s test result was ultimately shown to be a false positive.)
But those first postponements are reshaping the schedule now. L.S.U.’s October game at Florida was among those rescheduled to Dec. 12, which has been the landing spot for delayed SEC games, after Florida had an outbreak within its football program.
With L.S.U. now in need of a date to play Alabama, a matchup that has long drawn enormous television ratings and, last year, even President Trump, the options are scarce. In its statement on Tuesday, the conference said the rescheduling of the Tigers’ game with Alabama would “need to be evaluated.” In the very next sentence, the league said its rescheduling strategy “may include” Dec. 19 — for now, the date of the conference championship game in Atlanta.
It did not elaborate.
Nationwide, more than four dozen games involving Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the sport’s most prominent and lucrative tier, have been postponed or canceled this season for virus-related reasons.