The Southeastern Conference has established Sept. 26 as the new kickoff for its 2020 college football season to allow its universities to focus on the healthy return of their campus communities and the gradual re-introduction of athletics, as the 14 members of the SEC continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced Thursday.
The 2020 SEC football season will be comprised of a 10-game conference-only schedule and the SEC Football Championship Game will be played Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, rescheduled from the original date of December 5. The schedule will include one mid-season open date for each school and an open date on Dec. 12 for all schools.
“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,” 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 plan eliminates non-conference games, ending any chance of in-state rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech playing this season. The last time those two teams didn't play each other was 1924.
“The 10-game SEC schedule provides us the best opportunity to play football as safely as possible in a COVID environment," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. "It’s disappointing the schedule model does not make it possible to play Georgia Tech; however, we look forward to renewing that rivalry in 2021. I do want to commend Commissioner Sankey, his staff and the University presidents and chancellors for their leadership in continuing to navigate these challenging issues.
"We look forward to communicating our plan for attendance at home games in Sanford Stadium at a later date. We are thankful for the patience our devoted season ticket holders have shown during this time. We are committed to creating a safe and healthy environment for our fans that will respect and adhere to all Covid guidelines.”
The ACC announced its plans a day earlier with an 11-game schedule that left one non-conference game. The assumption was Tech would face Georgia in that spot, but the SEC decision nixed that option.
“We are really excited and grateful to learn what the structure of our schedule is and who our ACC opponents will be," Tech head coach Geoff Collins said. "I am disappointed that our players won’t have the opportunity to play our in-state rivalry game this season, but respect the SEC’s decision. However, neither announcement changes our preparation one bit. We will continue to focus on controlling what we can control in a structured environment with thoughtful protocols in place and staying ready to go out and compete this fall, should public health guidance allow it. All we need to know is where and when, and we will be ready to put the ball down and compete.”
The action was taken following extensive discussions and thorough deliberation among the SEC’s presidents and chancellors, athletics directors, conference office staff and medical advisors, led by the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, the league said.
“After careful consideration of the public health indicators in our region and following advice of our medical advisors, we have determined that this is the best course of action to prepare for a safe and healthy return to competition for SEC student-athletes, coaches and others associated with our sports programs,” said Sankey.
The decision to limit competition to conference-only opponents and rescheduling the SEC Championship Game is based on the need for maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments while reacting to developments around the pandemic and continued advice from medical professionals.
“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 rescheduled start to the season will allow the SEC to continue to monitor health trends across its 11-state footprint, as well as monitor developments in technology around mitigation and treatment of the virus, including:
• Trends in public health indicators throughout the SEC’s 11-state footprint, including positive cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and recovery statistics
• State, local and campus heath directives, including restrictions on gatherings, isolation requirements for travelers, and other health and travel restrictions
• Continued development of risk mitigation strategies
• Continued advancement in COVID-19 testing reliability and availability
• Continued evolution of time-based strategies for resuming activities after positive test results, including contact tracing, isolation and quarantine requirements
• Observation of successes and challenges presented by return to competition in other sports
A revised schedule for the 2020 SEC football season will be announced at a later date following approval by the Conference’s athletics directors.
Further decisions regarding safety standards related to athletics events, 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.
Other notes related to the resumption of competition:
• The SEC announced in July that the sports of men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball would be postponed through at least August 31. Start dates and schedules for those sports, as well as sports in their non-traditional seasons during the fall, will be announced at a later date.
• The SEC announced in July that student-athletes in all sports who elect to not participate in intercollegiate athletics during the fall 2020 academic semester because of health and/or safety concerns related to COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university and will remain in good standing with their team.
• The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force continues to meet on policies and procedures for the safe return of student-athletes to competition, including the development of comprehensive testing and reporting policies, building on the NCAA’s Resocialization of College Sports Guidelines.
• Each athletics program has been engaged in evaluating best practices for game operations to prepare a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, staff, officials and other individuals necessary to conduct games.