The Southeastern Conference has established September 26 as the new kickoff for its 2020 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 December 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 December 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."
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.
"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.
STATEMENT FROM PRESIDENT BOB CASLEN
"I am pleased that football will return in the fall and that we will play our SEC competitors. Throughout discussions with other SEC presidents and chancellors, I took the position that we should continue to play our in-state rival, but I support the ultimate decision to have conference-only play.
"Coach Tanner and the conference's athletics directors have worked tirelessly on this plan, keeping the safety of our student-athletes first in their discussions and decision. As our students make their way back to campus next month, I know they return ready for the excitement and tradition of college football. I commend the hard work of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, and look forward to the start of the season."
STATEMENT FROM ATHLETICS DIRECTOR RAY TANNER
"I appreciate the hard work and efforts of Commissioner Sankey and the SEC office in developing the procedures and protocols for our student-athletes to be able to participate in their sports this academic year.
"Since college sports were shut down due to the pandemic, the league's athletics directors have met often with the goal of making return to play happen for our student-athletes. I am confident in the guidance that we have received from the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our student-athletes, coaches, and staff.
"A conference-only schedule gives us the best opportunity to have a complete season because of the flexibility it provides with control over conference games and the ability to make adjustments, when there is a possibility of disruption."
"I am disappointed that we will not play our in-state rival this year. It is a great rivalry and one of the nation's best. The pandemic has created many challenges and forced us to make adjustments. I am glad that we are planning to play football this fall. I look forward to renewing the rivalry in 2021.
"Our student-athletes, coaches and staff appreciate the great support of all Gamecock fans. There are challenges in playing college football in the middle of a pandemic. Our staff is working on a comprehensive plan that will address these challenges."
STATEMENT FROM FOOTBALL COACH WILL MUSCHAMP
"We are excited about the opportunity to play football this fall. I appreciate the leadership of Commissioner Sankey, the SEC office and the medical experts in making the best decision for our institutions.
"It's unfortunate that we will not be playing Clemson this season but that wasn't our choice, it was a league decision. That's a game that is important to our program, our institution and our state, and one that President Caslen and Coach Tanner pushed hard to make happen. I look forward to renewing the rivalry in 2021."
STATEMENT FROM CLEMSON DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS DAN RADAKOVICH:
“Clemson aggressively lobbied the ACC to include an additional non-conference game for the primary purpose of maintaining our long-standing rivalry game with South Carolina. We’re disappointed to hear of the scheduling decision announced by the SEC, as we know the importance of The Palmetto Bowl to the State of South Carolina. We will work to fill the opening on our schedule immediately.”
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON GAMECOCK FOOTBALL SEASON