ATHENS — SEC Presidents will meet via Zoom call on Thursday to discuss different schedule models, the collegiate football landscape quickly filling in around them.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey indicated late July could prove to be a checkpoint as campus leaders look to move forward in the best interest of student-athletes.
The SEC teams returned to their respective campuses some eight weeks ago. The start of voluntary workouts began on June 8.
There has been growing speculation over when and how the SEC might schedule its season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guesswork became more rampant on Wednesday, when the ACC released its schedule model for the upcoming season, featuring 10 league games and allowing for one in-state home game.
The ACC scheduling stipulations assured that Georgia will not play Virginia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sept. 7.
The ACC’s 10-game league slate will include Notre Dame — with all television revenue being split equally — and allow each school one non-conference game that must be played in its home state.
That would suggest Georgia and Georgia Tech can continue their long-standing rivalry, which is scheduled to be played in Athens this season.
UGA athletic director Greg McGarity said the SEC would have oversight on when any games outside the league schedule are played.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced schedule models featuring conference-only games earlier this month. Both leagues are expected to play 10-game seasons.
The Big 12, meanwhile, is scheduled to hold a call next Monday to discuss its league scheduling options, per the Dallas Morning News.
“We will make our own decisions based on our own evaluations,” Bowlsby told the Dallas newspaper, even as rumors swirl the Big 12 is considering its own schedule model of conference games plus one — or two — non-conference opponents.
The SEC was once thought to be leaning toward a model involving the playing of the current eight league games plus one non-conference game.
The ACC’s decision on Wednesday, however, could tip the scales in favor of a 10-game league schedule model.
The next question: Will the SEC play the added non-conference game if it goes to a 10-game conference schedule?
And, should the SEC play 10 league games, one concept would be for teams to play their currently scheduled eight league opponents, and then accelerate their cross-division games from 2021 and 2022.
Georgia has a home game with Arkansas in 2021, and a road game at Mississippi State in 2022.
Georgia is currently scheduled to open SEC play at Alabama on Sept. 19.
The first SEC games currently scheduled to take place are on Sept. 12 with Kentucky at Florida and Vanderbilt at Missouri.
Blanket waiver available
The NCAA recently granted a so-called “blanket waiver” to all FBS teams which would allow them to move up their opening game to Aug. 29, in much the same manner Oklahoma has done with its game against Missouri State.
A built-in bye week would provide a cushion for any player who tests positive for COVID-19. The NCAA released an updated resocialization executive summary that mandates players who test positive be isolated for 10 days.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 indicated their league-only schedule model was intended, in part, to provide more flexibility in the scheduling, in the event of outbreaks that could lead to postponed games.
Sankey has expressed consideration for moving back the SEC Championship Game, which is currently scheduled for Dec. 7, to allow for even more flexibility.
Nothing has been decided, and Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork indicated to ESPN on Wednesday that the SEC may not get too far ahead of itself in terms of planning out the season.
“I believe a proper timeline could be a check-in point at the end of July, which is what we believe in at the SEC, and then let’s see what happens as we start training camps and fall practices,” Bjork told ESPN. “It’s a lot easier to pull back than it is to ramp up. I think really you could look at the middle of August as a realistic timeline to say, ‘OK, are we ready to start on time?'”
Sankey has set from the onset of collegiate sports’ winter championships postponements — and ultimately cancellations — that COVID-19 will determine the timeline.
“We’re going to rely exactly on our public health officials, at the national levels, state levels, and around our campuses and communities, to guide us toward a return to what we have known as normal,” Sankey said on the SEC Network last spring.
The SEC commissioner issued a statement earlier this month allowing for student-athletes who opt out of competing this fall to maintain good standing with their university and not lose a year of eligibility.
It has been a challenging topic to manage and stay on top of, to be sure.
“What I’ve tried to do is both keep a focus on what’s ahead but provide reality,” Sankey said this month, “which has been I’m going to focus on preparing to play the season as scheduled but acknowledge the circumstances around coronavirus are going to guide us in that decision-making,”