SEC football teams to play conference-only schedule for 2020

SEC football teams to play conference-only schedule for 2020
Auburn and Alabama will be among the SEC schools playing a conference-only schedule this year. (file)

The Southeastern Conference said today it will play a 10-game, conference-only football schedule this year with the start of the season delayed until Sept. 26.

The changes will allow for the SEC schools to better integrate the return of students to campus as they attempt to manage the spread of COVID-19, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said.

“This new plan for a football schedule is consistent with the educational goals of our universities to allow for the safe and orderly return to campus of their student populations and to provide a healthy learning environment during these unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 virus,” Sankey said.  “This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities.”

The SEC typically plays an eight-game conference schedule with four nonconference games. A new schedule with the two additional conference games is being worked out and will be announced at a later date when the athletics directors approve them. The schedule will include one mid-season open date for each school and an open date on Dec. 12 for all schools.

The SEC Football Championship Game will be played Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, rescheduled from the original date of Dec. 5.

“We’ve continued to stay optimistic about having a fall season, and today’s decision to move to a 10-game, conference-only schedule provides us with an opportunity to still compete and move our program forward in the safest way possible,” said Greg Byrne, director of athletics at the University of Alabama. “The health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans has always been at the forefront of our decision-making, and we are thankful to now have plans in place that allow us to move forward. We appreciate the hard work of Commissioner Sankey and the SEC staff as well as everyone involved across our 14 campuses to make these collective decisions together.”

Auburn University Director of Athletics Allen Greene also praised Sankey’s efforts and reiterated the importance of keeping players, coaches and staff safe and healthy.

“The presidents and chancellors’ decision to implement a 10-game, conference-only schedule for the 2020 football season is prudent and the Tigers are fully supportive,” Greene said. “While the format of the football schedule is confirmed, there are many other items related to football and other fall sports that warrant robust discussion, and the leaders in the Southeastern Conference are committed to working through these discussions in a thoughtful manner.”

A start date and a conference-only schedule offers some hope that an SEC college football season will still happen this fall. (Crimson Tide Photos)

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said the move by the SEC removes some of the uncertainty for coaches as they seek to prepare their teams.

“We are pleased to have a plan in place for the Southeastern Conference this season,” Saban said. “We believe it is the best option to keep players and staff safe and still maintain the integrity of the season. The safety of our team will be our highest priority throughout the season, but we are also excited that our players will have the opportunity to compete and play this season. I want to thank the leadership from our administration, our medical staff, the SEC and all of the medical experts that are guiding us through this process.”

Sankey said the SEC had input from school presidents and chancellors, athletics directors, conference office staff and medical advisers, led by the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force.

“After careful consideration of the public health indicators in our region and following advice of our medical advisers, we have determined that this is the best course of action to prepare for a safe and healthy return to competition for SEC student-athletes, coaches and others associated with our sports programs,” said Sankey.

Limiting the games to within the conference allows for easier revisions of schedules, if necessary.

“We believe these schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur,” Sankey said.  “It is regrettable that some of our traditional nonconference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures.”

The SEC and schools will wait before putting out additional guidelines related to game attendance, tailgating and other game day activities.

For cities like Tuscaloosa and Auburn-Opelika, the hope of a football season is huge given the hard hit the economies took from COVID-19, shortened spring semesters and the loss of graduation ceremonies.

“We were thrilled to hear that SEC football is going to take place this fall,” said Lolly Steiner, president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. “This is a really big deal for our local small businesses and our hoteliers. While we know things will look different here on fall Saturdays, our local economy will certainly benefit and for that we are encouraged.”

The SEC made additional announcements Thursday, including:

  • The SEC announced in July that men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball would be postponed through at least Aug. 31. Start dates and schedules for those sports, as well as sports in their nontraditional seasons during the fall, will be announced at a later date.
  • The SEC announced in July that student-athletes in all sports who elect to not participate in intercollegiate athletics during the fall 2020 academic semester because of health and/or safety concerns related to COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university and will remain in good standing with their team.
  • The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force continues to meet on policies and procedures for the safe return of student-athletes to competition, including the development of comprehensive testing and reporting policies, building on the NCAA’s Resocialization of College Sports Guidelines.

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