The Southeastern Conference's plans for the upcoming football season have been unveiled.
During a virtual meeting on Thursday between the SEC presidents and chancellors, they adopted a 10 game conference-only model for the 2020 season. All 14 athletic directors met on Wednesday and a majority approved the idea as well there.
Kickoff to the 2020 campaign has been delayed three weeks from Sept. 5 to Sept. 26 and the SEC Championship Game, which is slated to be held in Atlanta, was pushed back to Dec. 19.
During the season, each team will receive one bye week in the middle of the year and all teams will be off the week of Dec. 12.
"We are pleased to have a plan in place for the Southeastern Conference this season," University of Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement. "We believe it is the best option to keep players and staff safe and still maintain the integrity of the season.
"The safety of our team will be our highest priority throughout the season, but we are also excited that our players will have the opportunity to compete and play this season. I want to thank the leadership from our administration, our medical staff, the SEC, and all of the medical experts that are guiding us through this process."
According to the league office, the SEC will look at these factors and monitor what recent developments occur in the coming weeks surrounding COVID-19.
- 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
"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," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a press release. "This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities."
Along with the school presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors, the SEC's Return to Activity and Medical Gudiance Task Force played a key role in the decision making process.
"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.
Going conference-only also provides the league flexibility to move games around and uniform testing protocols pending an outbreak of COVID-19 within a program.
"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."
A normal season would consist of eight conference games and four non-conference matchups for each team, so now, each member institution will add two more games from the opposing division to fill out the schedule.
Per Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger, a separate scheduling model created by the SEC office will be used, based on strength of schedule, to determine the two additional games for each school.
The complete schedule will be released at a later date when it is approved by the athletic directors according to the conference.
"We've continued to stay optimistic about having a fall season, and today's decision to move to a 10-game, conference-only schedule provides us with an opportunity to still compete and move our program forward in the safest way possible," Alabama AD Greg Byrne said.
"The health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans has always been at the forefront of our decision making, and we are thankful to now have plans in place that allow us to move forward. We appreciate the hard work of Commissioner Sankey and the SEC staff as well as everyone involved across our 14 campuses to make these collective decisions together.