Though they got there on their own, a consensus is emerging in big-time college football. Assuming it happens, this college football season will be an isolated one.
The Big Ten first announced a conference-only season on July 9 and the Pac-12 followed a day later. Today, on July 30, the SEC announced it will do the same.
First reported by AL.com and Sports Illustrated, the SEC confirmed it will play a 10-game, conference-only season beginning Sept. 26 and concluding with the SEC Championship on Dec. 19. Specific information such as scheduling adjustments, attendance guidelines and tailgating rules will come at a later date.
“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,” SEC commissioner Greg 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 cited six bullet points for the making the move, all of them boiling back to the same issue: time. Time to allow virus hotspots within the SEC footprint to cool off. Time to absorb inevitable outbreaks, both when students return to campus and during the season. Time to watch and learn how the NFL and MLB deploy their bubble-less seasons.
SEC's decision was explained to me this way.
Expecting a possible spike in cases when students return to campus means the season needs to be delayed to give best chance to start. The delay eliminates room for nonconference games.
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) July 30, 2020
The ACC on Wednesday announced an 11-game schedule that allowed for a 10-game conference season (which includes Notre Dame) and one non-conference game that had to be played within the ACC school’s home state. This was widely viewed as a move to publicly box in the SEC and pin the blame on the ACC’s frenemy conference in the event Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson and Kentucky-Louisville were canceled.
Now that those games will indeed be canceled, the ACC will presumably cancel the “plus-one” provision from its schedule and move to a 10-game, conference-only schedule as well. The ACC didn’t put in that provision to preserve the Virginia Tech-Liberty game, after all.
Now that the SEC has set its plans, the only Power 5 yet to alter its season is the Big 12. It would be a shock if that league did not move to a conference-only season as well, if for no other reason that its member schools have run out of opponents willing to play them. Most of the Big 12’s marquee non-conference games were against SEC teams (Texas-LSU, Oklahoma-Tennessee, Baylor-Ole Miss) or teams from leagues that had already axed their non-conference schedule weeks ago (Texas Tech-Arizona, Iowa State-Iowa).
If and when that happens, it will have a cascading effect on the Group of 5 conferences. With no guarantee games coming, many of those leagues could join the multitude of divisional conferences by opting for a spring season, which would buy enough time that they could sell tickets to fans and avoid the cost of mass-testing athletes multiple times per week. Or, at least that’s the hope.
Aside from the overarching, industry-wide effect the SEC’s decision will have, it will also create a massive effect on the competitive balance of the 2020 season, assuming there is one.
First of all, the SEC champion would only have two weeks to prepare for a College Football Playoff semifinal, assuming it’s played as scheduled on Jan. 1.
Furthermore, increasing the conference schedule from eight games to 10 would have the unavoidable impact of the conference office placing its thumb on the scale of the two division title races. The 2020 season shapes up to be the SEC’s most wide-open in recent memory, with up to half the conference convinced they can at least get to Atlanta. No matter what model the conference office uses to schedule the 14 extra games, someone’s going to come away convinced they got screwed.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.