SEC to play 10-game, conference only schedule

The SEC has changed its football schedule to a 10-game, conference only slate for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The schedule is set to start Sept. 26.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Southeastern Conference will play a 10-game, conference only schedule beginning Sept. 26, according to a statement from the conference Thursday.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the plan will allow the member schools 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.”

The SEC Championship Game will be played Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, rescheduled from the original date of Dec. 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 in the statement. “This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities.”

LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward praised the decision in a statement.

“Today is an exciting day for all of us who love college football in the SEC,” Woodward said. “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.”

Woodward said the top priority for the conference and the university “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,” he said.

The decision was made 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 SEC statement.

“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,” Sankey said.

The decision to limit competition to Conference-only opponents and rescheduling the SEC Championship Game is based on the cnoference’s need for maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments while reacting to developments around the pandemic and continued advice from medical professionals, he said.

“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.

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