The powerhouse Southeastern Conference announced Thursday that it will play only league games in 2020, a pandemic-forced decision that pushes major college football closer to a siloed regular season in which none of the power conferences cross paths.
The SEC’s university presidents agreed on a 10-game schedule that eliminates all nonconference opponents and is set to begin on 26 September. The SEC championship game, originally scheduled for 5 December, will be pushed back to 19 December.
Each SEC team will have a midseason off week and 12 December will be an off week for the entire conference.
“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. “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 conference said further decisions regarding safety protocols with regard to spectators, tailgating and other game day activities, including social distancing, face covering and other health measures consistent with CDC, state and local guidelines, will be announced at a later date.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced plans to play only conference games. The Atlantic Coast Conference this week announced a reworked 11-game schedule that left room for one non-conference game.
The ACC wanted to allow four of its schools to maintain in-state rivalry games with SEC schools, but now Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina and Kentucky-Louisville have been canceled. That puts all ACC nonconference games in doubt because the conference had stipulated it would only allow its schools to play in their home states against non-ACC teams.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have yet to reveal detailed schedules but both could come as soon as Friday. Big 12 officials were holding out hope its 10 members would be able to play nonconference games, but options are dwindling. The SEC’s decision cancels LSU’s home game against Texas and Tennessee’s scheduled trip to Oklahoma in September.
Big 12 athletic directors are expected to meet Monday and could have a decision on their schedule then.
The delayed start for the Southeastern Conference is two weeks later than the ACC’s and creates 12 weeks to get in 10 games and determine participants for the league title game in Atlanta.
A whopping 63 of the first 146 picks in April’s NFL draft came from SEC schools, further proof of the conference’s place atop college football.