The Southeastern Conference has decided to push back the start of its college football season to September 26, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced on Thursday.
SEC teams will also switch to a 10-game, conference-only schedule and each team will have an open date on Dec. 12 plus an additional open date mid-season. The league office is working on a revised schedule for all of its member 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,” 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 decision was made after several meetings between Sankey, SEC presidents, conference athletic directors, medical advisors and the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance task force.
Sankey stated the new scheduling plan provides the best option for SEC schools to play a full season while offering the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the coronavirus. Switching to a conference-only schedule, fans will no longer see several primetime non-conference games including USC at Alabama (Sept. 5), Baylor at Ole Miss (Sept. 6), Texas at LSU (Sept. 12), North Carolina at Auburn (Sept. 12), Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 28), Kentucky at Louisville (Nov. 28), South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 28) and Florida at Florida State (Nov. 28).
Vanderbilt will no longer play its scheduled non-conference games against Mercer (Sept. 5), Kansas State (Sept. 19) and Colorado State (Sept. 26).
“This is a common-sense approach to starting a football season under incredibly challenging circumstances,” Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Lee said in a release. “…It’s exciting that our student-athletes have the opportunity to compete and win in the nation's finest conference. Vanderbilt will stay focused on ensuring this football season is as safe as possible for our student-athletes, the coaches and staff who support them, and Commodore Nation. Now, more than ever, we must work together, and I know we’re up to the task.”
Tennessee will no longer play its scheduled non-conference games against Charlotte (Sept. 5), Oklahoma (Sept. 12), Furman (Sept. 19) and Troy (Nov. 21). Nothing has been announced as to when Tennessee and Vanderbilt will play their traditional in-state rivalry game, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 20 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“A tremendous amount of thought and discussion went into making what we believe is a responsible decision on scheduling format, and it's exciting to be making progress toward competition,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement. “..There are still several logistical unknowns, but we appreciate Vol Nation being patient and sticking with us as we continue to work through these unique circumstances.
“Our next important reference point is a decision on capacity at Neyland Stadium. We plan to coordinate with state and local officials on gameday attendance, understanding that potential limitations could change from week to week once the season begins. This underscores the importance of the public practicing healthy habits statewide.”
The SEC championship game will also be pushed back from its original Dec. 5 date and will now be played on Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Decisions on start times for men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball will be announced at a later date. The SEC will also honor scholarships of any student-athlete who decides to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
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