In the wake of the Big Ten and Pac-12’s decisions to limit their 2020 football games to conference only, the SEC’s athletic directors will meet today to determine the reality and shape of their league’s fall schedule.
As of late Sunday night, the mood inside the league is “emphatic” about playing a football season this fall, according to a source at one SEC program. Unlike the Big Ten or Pac-12, there is no consensus among schools who spoke to Banner Society regarding eliminating non-conference games. However, a variety of potential modified schedules have been floated, none of them involving Group of 5 or FCS opponents.
More important than any scheduling format is the unspoken reason why they’re considering these modifications at all: a growing belief inside the industry that leagues will need to establish uniform testing and tracing procedures for COVID-19 among member schools, and that G5 leagues and programs will not be able to replicate the process.
“What you’re seeing nationwide are ADs trying to keep a season together,” a source at one SEC school said. “They’re looking at small schools and saying privately ‘They don’t have the ability to test like we do’ and then talking about travel and facility logistics publicly.”
If the SEC does eliminate G5 and FCS games from their 2020 schedule, these are a few of the models they could follow:
An eight-game conference schedule: The league would mirror its counterparts in the Pac-12 and B1G, dropping non-conference games and playing its existing conference schedule, as well as the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
There’s two scenarios if the SEC goes this route. The first is to simply remove the non-conference games and play the season as-is. This would give ten SEC programs an extra two weeks before their season starts, with two games (Florida vs. Kentucky and Missouri vs. Vanderbilt) kicking off the season on Sept. 12. In this format, LSU and Texas A&M wouldn’t start their schedules until Sept. 26.
The second possibility is what many who spoke to Banner Society feel is likelier for an eight game season: The SEC would shrink the football window down to around two months. This would allow for the league to either start the season in September and conclude football early, or wait and play an eight game season leading into a conference championship in December.
An enhanced all-SEC schedule: The league would take the existing eight-game schedule and add a ninth conference game, likely a cross-division opponent. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The selection and placement of those additional games will create inter-program turmoil that normally takes the league months to smooth over. Auburn’s 2020 East opponents are Kentucky and Georgia; would they be paired with Florida or Vanderbilt? The Bulldogs play Alabama and Auburn from the West; would they end up with LSU or Arkansas, and when? Week 1 (Sept. 5) is currently the only Saturday without any scheduled league games, but it’s also the soonest.
The Big 12 / ACC Alliance: Sources at multiple schools have confirmed a desire among ADs and the league to preserve as much of the non-conference schedule as possible. Multiple outlets have reported the ACC is considering cancelling its non-conference games, effectively wiping out most of the SEC East’s rivalry week slate (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Florida vs. Florida State, Kentucky vs. Louisville, South Carolina vs. Clemson). The SEC is trying to maintain those games with the ACC while also crafting an agreement with the Big 12, in hopes of giving every SEC program one non-conference game.
Right now, there are four SEC/Big 12 games scheduled for 2020: Vanderbilt at Kansas State, Texas at LSU, Tennessee at Oklahoma and Ole Miss vs. Baylor in Houston (It’s likely that game would be moved to either campus instead of NRG Stadium).
Preserving these existing contests would guarantee a Power 5 opponent for eight programs; if successful, the league would then try to find match-ups for the remaining six teams. Auburn is scheduled to play North Carolina in Atlanta on September 12 — it’s possible that game could move to either campus — and Mississippi State and Arkansas currently have trips to NC State and Notre Dame, respectively, that same weekend. If the league were to count Missouri’s October 10 game at BYU as Power 5, the scheduling gap would be reduced to two schools: Texas A&M and Alabama.
Keep in mind that any decision the SEC and/or the SEC in concert with other leagues might come to in the short term is in no way a guarantee of any actual football being played. In conversations with these programs, the reality of COVID-19 was acknowledged multiple times: Any decision or statement made now can – and likely will – change before Sept. 5.