College football: SEC announces move to 10-game conference-only schedule

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Staff Reports

The SEC is moving to a 10-game conference-only schedule with the first games set for Sept. 26, the league announced in a Thursday press release.

The decision will “allow the 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.

“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.”

This 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, according to the release.

Each team will have one mid-season open date. The SEC Championship Game will be in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 19. It was originally scheduled for Dec. 5. Each team will have an open date on Dec. 12.

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, the release stated.

“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.”

Defending SEC and national champion LSU was scheduled to start the season with three consecutive non-conference games against Texas-San Antonio, Texas and Rice with the opener on Sept. 5.

LSU was also scheduled to play Nicholls State on Oct. 3.

The Tigers have eight conference games scheduled. They will now add two more against East Division opponents. One of those will be Tennessee, according to a media report.

Going by the original schedule, LSU’s first game would now be Sept. 26 at home against Ole Miss. The opponent could change though.

The SEC plans to announce a revised schedule soon.

LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward issued the following statement Thursday evening.

“Today is an exciting day for all of us who love college football in the SEC. The toughest conference in college football is going to battle it out in historic fashion. Tiger Stadium and our National Championship Football team will play host to five SEC opponents in a 10-game, all-SEC regular-season schedule.

“As a conference we have been aligned in this process from the beginning and I want to thank Commissioner (Greg) Sankey for his leadership during this unprecedented time. There is still a great deal of work to be done and many important decisions to be made, but this is a big step in the right direction for our conference, our school and our student-athletes.

“Our top priority remains the safety and well-being of our student-athletes. We, as SEC member institutions, are continuing to engage in deliberate and informed discussions on planning for the safety of student-athletes, coaches and staff. We will continue to follow the guidance of medical professionals in our decision making, including the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force. Together, and with the direction of state public health officials, we are focused on a safe return to competition.”

Louisiana Tech was scheduled to play Vanderbilt on Nov. 21. The Bulldogs already have had to replace their Nov. 19 opponent, Prairie View A&M, after the SWAC’s decision to move its football season to spring. Tech will now play Houston Baptist on Nov. 19.

“We are aware of the SEC’s decision to go to a 10-game conference-only schedule,” Louisiana Tech Athletic Director Tommy McClelland said in a statement posted on Twitter. “We were looking forward to our game with Vanderbilt in November and are certainly disappointed we will not have that opportunity to play them this season. We are excited about this year and will keep fans updated as things change with this fluid situation.”