SEC moves to conference-only schedule for 2020

A game last year between Southeastern Conference rivals Louisiana State and Alabama. The SEC this year will move to a conference-only slate for football. (Photo by Kevin Liles /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X163056 TK1 )

The Southeastern Conference is the latest Power Five entity in American college sports to move to a conference-only schedule for the football season this fall due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the lead of the Big Ten, Pac-12, and most recently the Atlantic Coast Conference, the SEC approved a 10-game, conference-only football schedule that would begin September 26 and conclude December 19 with the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

“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 experience during these unique circumstances presented by the Covid-19 virus,” said Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner. “This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities.”

“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,” Sankey said. 

The SEC’s rescheduling, however, is still entirely dependent on whether there can be a college football season at all, something continuing to grow more unlikely every day. Covid-19 case rates continue to surge in many parts of the United States, including the Southeast region that comprises a key part of the SEC’s market territory, and colleges are not equipped to construct heavily quarantined environments in the way that many pro leagues have done to resume their competition. 

Because of that, several smaller conferences including the Ivy League, Patriot League, and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference have already moved to shut down all of their fall sports. 

To that end, the SEC also acknowledged there could be further changes to its plans depending on the course of the pandemic.

“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.

The ACC’s “10+1” model that included 10 conference games and a single non-conference game for each team was designed in part to allow for several key non-conference football rivalries with SEC schools to continue this fall. Among them were the traditional Palmetto Bowl between the ACC’s Clemson and South Carolina of the SEC that has been played every year since 1909, and similar in-state battles between the ACC’s Georgia Tech and SEC’s Georgia, and the ACC’s Florida State and SEC’s Florida.

But the SEC did not respond in kind with its scheduling.

“Clemson aggressively lobbied the ACC to include an additional non-conference game for the primary purpose of maintaining our long-standing rivalry game with South Carolina,” said Dan Radakovich, Clemson director of athletics. “We’re disappointed to hear of the scheduling decision announced by the SEC, as we know the importance of the Palmetto Bowl to the state of South Carolina. We will work to fill the opening on our schedule immediately.”

The Big 12, the last of the Power Five conferences to not disclose its scheduling plans for the fall, is expected to make a decision shortly. University presidents in that conference are meeting next week and will consider several different potential scheduling models. 

Read this: US college sports face critical juncture as Covid-19 cancellations mount