We southerners love our football. And for months we've worried about it's future this fall. Will students return to campus? Will our favorite teams play? Will fans be allowed in the stands? As sports organizations at every level of play try to come to terms with the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has announced plans for a modified college football season. SEC teams will kick off September 26 and each school will only play ten inner-conference games this season.
The new start date pushes the opener back almost three weeks. The SEC Championship has also been delayed from December 5 to December 19 as a result. The change leaves every school on the roster with an open date. The conference-only format means several popular rivalry games, like Clemson and South Carolina, won’t take place. But, since Auburn University and the University of Alabama are both part of the SEC, the Iron Bowl matchup will be part of the adjusted season.
The shortened schedule will impact smaller football programs that in some cases rely on the money and revenue generated by playing much larger, out-of-conference teams. Schools like Samford and the University of Alabama at Birmingham will undoubtedly be affected by the change.
Previously, the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced they would play only conference games. Just a day before the SEC made its decision, the ACC announced similar changes to its season.
Such changes have been made to preserve some semblance of a season that will inevitably be rocked by the continuing presence of COVID-19. Finding some middle ground between a normal season and outright cancellation will help ensure the SEC doesn’t lose a large chunk of revenue for the year. The SEC made nearly $721 million in 2019, with a large portion coming from TV contracts.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the decision was made to help protect players, students and fans, while also adapting to make sure a season was possible.
"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."
There are still many unanswered questions about the season and officials have to work through a lot of details given the current state of the pandemic. The SEC plans to announce the finalized adjusted schedule in August.