SEC to play 10-game conference schedule, won't start season until Sept. 26

The SEC is delaying the start of its college football season.

The conference announced Thursday that it’s implementing a 10-game conference-only schedule for each team similar to the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. But unlike those three conferences, the SEC is also moving the start of the football season back. The first SEC games will kick off on Sept. 26, three weeks after the original Week 1 start date on Labor Day weekend.

The delay means that the SEC championship game will be played Dec. 19 instead of Dec. 5.

“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,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “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 Big Ten and Pac-12 were the first conferences to act earlier in July when they announced that their teams would play conference-only schedules in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The ACC followed suit in a modified way on Wednesday when it announced that teams would play 10 conference games along with one non-conference game.

Numerous ACC teams regularly play SEC teams, so it reasoned that the non-conference game for teams like Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson would be against their in-state SEC rivals. But the SEC’s move to go to a conference-only schedule scuppers that rivalry game idea. If the ACC sticks with one non-conference game per team, those hoping to play SEC teams will have to find new opponents.

“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 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 SEC’s move also leaves the Big 12 as the only conference to not make a decision about how it’ll handle the 2020 football season. The Big 12 said earlier in the week that it would host a virtual media day on Monday but announced Thursday that the media day had been canceled, likely because of all the schedule juggling that’s going on across the country.

Once the Big 12 figures out officially what it’s going to do, you can expect that the Group of Five conferences will follow suit. Those conferences, which contain schools that rely on Power Five teams to pay them to visit for games, will also likely move to conference-only schedules like their bigger counterparts.

Two additional conference games

A 10-game schedule for SEC teams means that teams will play two extra conference games in 2020. How that works out is a fascinating hypothetical.

According to Sports Illustrated, a scheduling model “composed by the league office using strength of schedule” could be the method with which the SEC decides the two additional opponents for each team in 2020. Sankey said during a Thursday interview with Paul Finebaum that a “number of models” are being discussed and he expects the conference to reach a decision “in short order.”

Under ordinary circumstances, each SEC team plays every other team in its division (six), a rotating team from the opposite division and an annual rival from the opposite division.

The SEC said a revised schedule for its 14 teams “will be announced at a later date following approval by the conference’s athletics directors.” A conference spokesman said the two divisions will remain intact under the revised schedule.

Canceled non-conference games

The SEC’s conference-only decision means that the annual ACC-SEC rivalry games are gone along with a couple of non-conference games we still hoped to see in 2020. LSU won’t play Texas after a thriller in 2019 and Arkansas won’t visit Notre Dame.

Here’s a complete list of the games that were still on the schedule as of Thursday morning.

Alabama: Georgia State (Sept. 12), Kent State (Sept. 26), UT Martin (Nov. 14)

Arkansas: Nevada (Sept. 5), at Notre Dame (Sept. 12) Charleston Southern (Oct. 3), Louisiana Monroe (Nov. 21)

Auburn: Southern Miss (Sept. 26), UMass (Nov. 14)

Florida: Eastern Washington (Sept. 5), South Alabama (Sept. 19), New Mexico State (Nov. 21), at Florida State (Nov. 28)

Georgia: Eastern Tennessee (Sept. 12), Louisiana Monroe (Sept. 26), Georgia Tech (Nov. 28)

Kentucky: Eastern Michigan (Sept. 3), Kent State (Sept. 19), Eastern Illinois (Oct. 10), at Louisville (Nov. 28)

LSU: UTSA (Sept. 5), Texas (Sept. 12), Rice (Sept. 19), Nicholls (Oct. 3)

Mississippi State: New Mexico (Sept. 5), at NC State (Sept. 12), Tulane (Sept. 26)

Missouri: Central Arkansas (Sept. 5), Eastern Michigan (Sept. 26), at BYU (Oct. 10), Louisiana (Nov. 21)

Ole Miss: Baylor (Sept. 6 - Houston), Southern Missouri (Sept. 12), UConn (Oct. 24), Georgia Southern (Nov. 21)

South Carolina: Coastal Carolina (Sept. 5), East Carolina (Sept. 12), Wofford (Nov. 21), at Clemson (Nov. 28)

Tennessee: Charlotte (Sept. 5), at Oklahoma (Sept. 12), Furman (Sept. 19), Troy (Nov. 21)

Texas A&M: Abilene Christian (Sept. 5), North Texas (Sept. 12), Fresno State (Oct. 10)

Vanderbilt: Mercer (Sept. 5), at Kansas State (Sept. 19), Colorado State (Sept. 26), Louisiana Tech (Nov. 21)

Two Georgia players walk past the SEC logo.
The season start delay means SEC teams will start the season three weeks after the original Week 1 start date. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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