With college football schedules across the country in flux amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the SEC announced Thursday afternoon that it has moved to a 10-game, conference-only schedule for the 2020 season. The SEC is also pushing the start of its season to Saturday, Sept. 26, what was originally scheduled to be Week 4 of the 2020 campaign.
With the shift of the start of its season to Sept. 26, the SEC Championship Game will be pushed back two weeks to Saturday, Dec. 19. This creates flexibility amongst teams with two opportunities for makeup games as the adjusted schedule will feature a midseason bye week for each school and an open date for all programs on Dec. 12, one week before the title game.
It is unknown at this time how the SEC will fill out the additional two games of its conference-only schedule as the revised set of games will be announced by the league at a later date. SEC members traditionally play eight conference games each season: six inside their respective divisions, one permanent cross-division opponent and one rotational cross-division opponent.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Thursday evening the SEC will maintain its two-division structure and not play the 2020 season as a single division, a model the ACC moved to on Wednesday. He also believes the SEC will factor “competitive fairness” into determining the two additional conference games that each team will play this season.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey explained the conference’s decision in a release:
“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. This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities. …
“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. It is regrettable that some of our traditional non-conference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures.”
The 14 SEC presidents met virtually on Thursday to come to this scheduling decision one day after the league’s athletic directors proposed sticking with a conference-only model.
The SEC joins the Big Ten and Pac-12 by deciding to play a conference-only schedule in 2020. The ACC announced Wednesday that it will play an 11-game schedule with 10 intraleague contests and one nonconference game.
It is unknown at this time how the SEC’s decision may affect the ACC’s scheduling plans considering four key nonconference rivalry games (Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville) will be lost by the SEC’s move. Auburn-North Carolina and Arkansas-Notre Dame were other SEC-ACC games scheduled this season. (The Fighting Irish are operating as a full-fledged ACC member in 2020.)
Other marquee nonconference games featuring SEC teams that will be lost this season include LSU-Texas and Tennessee-Oklahoma. (Alabama-USC was previously canceled due to the Pac-12’s scheduling announcement.) The Big 12 has not yet announced any firm plans for its 2020 schedules, though losing those games may affect its decision-making process.