On Thursday, the bombshell that had long been expected officially dropped: The SEC has announced their plans for the upcoming college football season. The conference where it “just means more” is about to get more, with a 10-game, league only schedule beginning on September 26th. The season will end with the SEC title game on December 19th, pushed back from its original December 5th date.
For the SEC honks, it’s pure bliss – a chance for the elites of the sport to face the other elites on a more regular basis, with a more loaded schedule. For the purists it’s a little bit disappointing, as we will lose some of our biggest and best rivalries, as well as other marquee out of conference games.
Still, the SEC has made their decision and there is no going back. Here are seven immediate reactions following the news.
The September 26th date has meaning
When I first heard the news that the SEC was going to a league-only format, I ultimately wasn’t surprised. What was surprising was the start date. September 26th. That means the league will be starting a full four weeks behind their scheduled debut, and five weeks after Week 0. It could mean a full five-week start for some schools before Alabama, Georgia or LSU ever take the field (although that’s not likely – I assume everyone will push back at least a few weeks).
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that might not be the worst thing. If anything, it appears that pushing back the season five full weeks has meaning: It gives SEC schools a chance to see what happens when regular students return to campus in the coming weeks.
League approved kickoff date is Sept. 26. Particulars on the schedule (the two additional games & locations) are unclear for now.
SEC title game Dec. 19.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 30, 2020
That’s because right now, this is the one gray area that no one has an answer for, and has everyone in college sports that I talk to worried: What happens when students come back to campus? It’s easy to keep your guys in a bubble like environment when no one else is on campus, but what happens when anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 other kids return to campus. Or maybe more appropriately “how do you keep college aged guys, away from college aged girls.”
In essence, if you really follow this stuff, parties and bars have accounted for just about every major outbreak in sports so far. That includes the Miami Marlins (who hit the town in Atlanta last week), to LSU football, Kansas State football and Rutgers football, which shut down workouts last week after an off-campus party. Sources have told me a similar party led to the shutdown of Michigan State football last week as well.
Therefore, pushing back the season a month allows for schools to see what happens when kids return to campus. It’s impossible to expect any school to get by with zero positive tests, but hopefully if there is an outbreak in late August or early September, the doctors have a chance to assess it, to make sure it doesn’t happen again by the middle to end of September.
While the September 26th start date sucks, I do think it will hopefully allow the sport to go off relatively without a hitch once things get going.
The SEC Championship Game getting moved back to December 19th is also huge
Although so much of the conversation about college sports has surrounded college football in the last few months, many have asked me what all this means for basketball. And my response has been pretty simply this: I actually think basketball is in reasonably good shape (as good a shape as any sport can be in under these circumstances) because of the calendar. Most schools have moved up the start of the semester, meaning that kids will leave campus for good around Thanksgiving and not return for the second semester until late January. For basketball it gives a good, 8-10 week window where they can create an “on campus bubble” and get in as many games as possible.
Well, with the SEC title game getting pushed back two full weeks (from December 5th to 19th) it also creates a mini-bubble for football as well.
While there is little anyone can do if an outbreak hits in late September or early October, the SEC will have a solid 4-5 week window at the back-end of the schedule, where few people other than athletes will be on campus. It also means that coming down the home-stretch, when the games matter the most, these teams should be at the least risk of catching the virus from other students.
Now there are other factors to consider here (like the fact that flu season will be in full swing around that time). But for the most part, pushing the season back and playing a bunch of games when students aren’t on campus could be a smart move for the SEC.
Will we see more players drop out?
All along I’ve been a believer that part of the reason that we need a college football season is because so few players have their NFL Draft futures locked in. While Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields could miss a season of college football and still be a millionaire next April, most other guys need this season to either put themselves on the NFL’s radar, or to improve their draft standing.
Because of it, I always believed that as long as the season started on time, most guys wouldn’t elect to “shut it down.”
But now? I’m not so sure.
Again, this may only apply to a small subset of guys, but just think of it like this: Practices began within the last few weeks, and we are still almost two full months away from the first kick-off of the college football season. If you’re a potential first round pick, is it really worth two more months of full practice, in the hopes that you can get in something resembling a full season at the end of September? What happens if you put in all that work, and then on September 20th, the SEC says “we’re pushing back another month.”
It’s impossible to know what will happen and because of it, I do just wonder how many people say “Screw it. It’s going to be such a crazy season anyway, let me shut it down, and get ready for the NFL Draft?”
For the third time now, it may only be a few guys.
But trust me agents are salivating right now. And burning up a bunch of kid’s (or their parents) phones.
We are about to get some looooooaded schedules
While there are some obvious downsides to no out of conference games (which we’ll get into in a minute) there are some crazy upsides too. An already loaded SEC schedule will be even better in 2020.
Just as an example, Alabama was already slated to play Georgia in an SEC crossover game. SEC West foes LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M are all potential Top 15 teams, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State – incase you haven’t heard – made a pair of big-time coaching hires (Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach). That schedule was already good for Alabama. Now they may add a crossover game with Florida, a team which has won 10+ games each of the last two seasons and is a dark horse playoff contender.
I mean seriously look at that schedule… IT’S LOADED!!!! Same with Florida, which might be forced to add Alabama and Texas A&M to an already tough schedule, which already had Georgia and LSU on it.
In essence, I guess what I am saying is this: Who is complaining about MORE SEC football?!?!
I kind of feel bad for Arkansas and Vanderbilt fans right now (and Missouri and South Carolina fans too)
Because while more SEC football might be fun for fans, and schools like Alabama and LSU, it stinks for the cellar dwellers in this conference.
If you needed proof, this tweet from my friend John Nabors, a radio host in Arkansas pretty much sums it up.
Most people: "SEC teams only playing other SEC teams. THIS IS THE DREAM!!!"
Arkansas fans: ??????
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) July 30, 2020
Hey, at least Arkansas is about to be good in basketball, right?
So long rivalry games
Look, I don’t need to get into a big, long, drawn out explanation of what this all means.
I just know that it sucks that we aren’t going to get some of those rivalries that define the end of the year in college football. You know, South Carolina-Clemson, Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville and Georgia-Georgia Tech.
Who knows if there was a conceivable way to conserve them. But it will still suck not having them.
So long other marquee out of conference games
While so much of the focus is on the rivalry games, we also lost a bunch of other awesome out of conference matchups as well.
Texas-LSU was maybe the best regular season game in college football last season – and the return game was supposed to be in Baton Rouge. That’s now gone. Same with Tennessee’s trip to Oklahoma, and what would have likely been a Top 25 matchup between Georgia and Virginia to open the year.
Again, I understand the league only model, and why it makes sense. But it will suck not having these games.
Finally, it is further proof that the “leaders” in the NCAA headquarters aren’t leaders at all
As someone who covers both college football and college basketball, I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to see history repeat itself. Last March we saw the Ivy League cancel it’s basketball tournament, with every other conference eventually deciding on their own to follow suit. Where was Mark Emmert in all this? No where to be found.
Now five months later it has happened again. The Ivy League cancelled fall sports, only to see the Big Ten and Pac-12 announce they’d go to a conference only schedule. Yesterday the ACC went to the plus-one model (which is now essentially “league only”) and today the SEC did the same. There’s little doubt the Big 12 will eventually follow suit.
And I bring all this up to say that if there was ever a doubt that there is zero leadership coming out of Indianapolis, this proves it right here. Just looking at the decision-making in college football these last few weeks, it’s clear there is zero uniformity. No one is working together. Everyone is doing what’s best for themselves. And everyone is doing it on the timeframe that works for them. Even worse, Mark Emmert is again sitting by idly, watching everyone else make firm decisions. Put another way, if I asked you who has been the “face” of college football the last few weeks who would you say? I’d go with Greg Sankey honestly.
At the end of the day, I don’t have all the answers to the tough questions. But I’m also not getting paid $2.7 million a year to have all the answers like Mark Emmert is. Which is why it’s clear to me that college sports needs a leadership overhaul at the highest levels. As someone who loves college sports it’s disappointing and frustrating to watch, but also something that has become a reality these last few months.
And since I don’t want to end on a down note, all I want to do is ask one more question:
How many days until September 26th again?