Could The SEC Fit A Nine-Game Schedule into a Window That Starts Oct. 1?

Tony Barnhart

When the start date of the 2020 college football season became in doubt, I heard from a lot of people with ideas on how to adjust the SEC football schedule if we don’t begin on Sept. 5.

And here’s what I’ve learned: The 13-week SEC schedule is pretty complex document that takes into account the scheduling preferences of a number of schools. Here are some examples:

**--Both Alabama and LSU wanted (and got) an open date before their meeting on Nov. 7 in Baton Rouge.

**--Georgia’s No. 1 scheduling priority was to have a week off before playing its traditional game with Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 31.

**--Auburn wanted to break up the scheduling quirk that for a long time has had them playing both Georgia and Alabama at home or on the road in a three-week stretch in November. So this season Auburn will play Georgia in Athens on Oct. 10 and keep its traditional date with Alabama on Nov. 28.

**--And every school wants an open date that falls somewhere in the middle of the season. All 14 open dates this season come in a four-week stretch in October.

So making any significant changes to the schedule at this late date is darn near impossible.

But we may find ourselves in an impossible position.

Here’s what I mean. Thirteen of the 14 SEC teams are scheduled to begin the 2020 season on Saturday Sept. 5. Georgia plays Virginia in Atlanta two days later,Sept. 7. If we start on time, fine.

But what if we couldn’t start the season until Thursday, October 1?

Back on April 16 Mark Blaudschun, my TMG colleague, suggested that one way to get the season into a reduced time frame would be to cut the number of regular-season games to nine. He also advocated expanding the playoff to generate more revenue to compensate what had been lost with the games cancelled in September.

https://www.si.com/college/tmg/mark-blaudschun/college-football-returns

For now let’s set the playoff issue aside. What I wanted to ponder was whether or not it was possible, with a start date of Oct. 1, to get an SEC schedule played in a time frame that kept the CFP semifinals on Jan. 1 and the national championship game on Jan. 11 as they are currently scheduled.

So I took the current schedule and created the following parameters:

**--Every SEC team would play a nine-game schedule—eight conference games and 1 non-conference game.

**--The SEC championship game would be moved from Dec. 5 to Dec. 12. You’ll remember that this is what happened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The games that were scheduled the Saturday following the attacks were moved to the first Saturday in December and the SEC championship game was pushed back a week. That move gives us 10 Saturdays to get in nine games.

**--Schools with in-state rivalry games from the ACC (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky) would keep those as their designated non-conference games. Other schools would choose their non-conference game as the schedule allows.

**--Everybody’s open date would remain the same.

At first it was easy.

Let’s take Alabama: The Crimson Tide opens with USC in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 5 and then plays Georgia on Sept. 19 in Tuscaloosa. The Georgia game gets priority and would be moved to Dec. 5. The only option to play USC would be Nov. 14, when Alabama could buy out a non-conference game with UT-Martin. USC, however, is scheduled to play Washington that day. So USC gets rescheduled for another year or is cancelled. Alabama buys out, reschedules, or cancels Georgia State (Sept. 12) and Kent State (Sept. 26).

Auburn has only one conference game in September against Ole Miss in Oxford (Sept. 19). That game could be moved to Dec. 5 and Auburn could keep its Nov. 14 game with UMass.

Georgia is also pretty straightforward because once the Bulldogs get to October they play seven straight SEC games followed by Georgia Tech on Nov. 28. So the Alabama game on Sept. 19 moves to Dec. 5.

But when a team has TWO SEC games scheduled in September things get tricky. Florida’s Sept 12 game with Kentucky could be moved to Dec. 5. Both Florida and Tennessee, who are set to meet on Sept. 26, have non-conference games on Nov. 21 with New Mexico State and Troy respectively, and could buy those out to create a slot.

But then there are situations where there does not appear to be an answer working within these parameters.

Ole Miss has back-to-back SEC games in September against Auburn (the 19th) and LSU (the 26th). We’ve already moved the Ole Miss-Auburn game to Dec. 5. On Auburn’s open date (Oct. 24), LSU plays Mississippi State. On Auburn’s non-conference date (Nov. 14), LSU plays South Carolina.

Six SEC teams (Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Missouri, South Carolina) have two conference games scheduled in the month of September. Fitting those into a 10-week schedule will be tough.

It was an interesting exercise that reminds us once again how tough it is a put these schedules together and how incredibly difficult it is the change.

If you want to give it a try, print out this copy of the SEC schedule grid for 2020.

https://a.espncdn.com/sec/football/2020/2020%20Football%20Schedule%20Grid.pdf

Good luck.

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Tony Barnhart

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