This afternoon, the Big Ten became the first Power Five conference to announce it is moving to a league-only schedule for the 2020 football season. The ACC and PAC-12 are expected to follow suit, and although the SEC says no decision has been made yet, it feels like the writing is on the wall.
Logistically, moving to a conference-only schedule makes sense; getting rid of non-conference games eliminates a lot of variables. All teams will go by the same set of rules, and if a team must quarantine for two weeks due to an outbreak, it’s easier to shift things around. On the flip side, a lot of non-conference rivalries will temporarily be shelved, in our case, the Governor’s Cup. With that in mind, let’s look at the winners and losers IF the SEC decides to only play conference games this season.
The ACC is reportedly planning to nix non-conference games anyway, which means the Cardinals won’t have to suffer their third-straight loss to the Cats. It’s okay; we’re more than happy to keep the Governor’s Cup home where it belongs.
Vanderbilt only won one SEC game last season, a 21-14 upset of No. 22 Missouri in Nashville. In the six years Derek Mason has been head coach, the Commodores are 10-38 against conference foes, and with games vs. Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M, and Tennessee this year, the road is already tough and will only get tougher.
WINNER: South Carolina
The Gamecocks will avoid what is sure to be a loss at Clemson the final week of the regular season. Unless they draw one of the SEC West heavyweights, that’s probably enough for the media to boost them two more spots in their preseason predictions.
LOSERS: Non-Power 5 programs
With the exception of Louisville, the non-conference teams that Kentucky plays get a nice paycheck to come to Kroger Field. Now more than ever, that money is essential for Group of Five programs — teams from the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Conference USA (C-USA), Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference (MW), and Sun Belt Conference (Sun Belt) — to stay afloat. Kentucky’s 2020 Group of Five foes, Eastern Michigan and Kent State, are scheduled to receive $350,000 and $1.75 million respectively for coming to Lexington. Eastern Illinois, an FCS squad, is set to receive $500,000. What happens to them if that paycheck goes away?
Is there a such thing as pandemic insurance? If not, somebody’s gonna pay.
A Group of 5 AD on cancellation of guarantee game contracts costing his and other G5 athletic departments millions: “So do we end up in court?”
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 9, 2020
The Razorbacks are not expected to be good in Sam Pittman’s first season and would have to swap games vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Nevada, and Charleston Southern for SEC opponents, but at least they won’t have to play Notre Dame. That is, of course, if the ACC includes Notre Dame as has been reported. Call it a draw?
LOSERS: The teams that have to play Alabama
If the SEC adds more games, somebody has to play Alabama. Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, and Auburn already have the Crimson Tide on their schedules this season, leaving South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt as kids left in the circle of the world’s most terrifying game of Spin the Bottle. Florida has the best chance of knocking off ‘Bama, but the rest of the group? Good luck.
…Although, those teams never have anything to lose and everything to gain when playing Alabama, so maybe it’s just the same as a normal year?
LOSERS: Freshmen or players coming off injury
The non-conference slate gives players a chance to find their footing (or, depending on where the game is on the schedule, rest) and coaches the chance to tinker with their depth charts and playbooks. Taking the cupcake games away will mean throwing young players, or those coming off injury like Terry Wilson, right into the fire. The SEC doesn’t do learning curves or easy wins; thankfully, Kentucky returns a veteran offensive line to give Terry as much cushion as possible.
WINNERS: Fans if this means we get football
At some point, 2020 has to stop 2020-ing, right? Go Cats. Wear a mask.