The NCAA’s Power Five conferences have by and large moved towards a proposed conference-only schedule for 2020 recently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Big Ten declaring a conference-only schedule July 9, the Pac-12 following suit the next day, and the ACC announcing a mostly-conference schedule (including Notre Dame, with one possible exception per school for a non-ND non-conference game) July 29. Thursday then saw the SEC declare that they’ll play a 10-game conference-only schedule this fall, one starting Sept. 26 (much later than other conferences have announced so far) and featuring a conference championship game (the 2018 conference championship game logo is seen above) on Dec. 19 (two weeks later than the initial date of Dec. 4). And as Ross Dellinger of Sports Illustrated noted Thursday, that means a lot of still-active interconference Power Five games (with SEC schools playing ACC or Big 12 teams; games against Big Ten and Pac-12 teams were previously taken out) are now all gone.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 30, 2020
What’s perhaps particularly interesting here is how the ACC made it so the SEC will be blamed for the cancellation of the rivalry games between schools from each conference: Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville, and South Carolina-Clemson. ACC teams were set to host three of those games this year (all but Georgia Tech-Georgia), and there was some logic to them leaving a window open for those (and also Mississippi State-NC State, not a rivalry game, but another SEC-ACC game).
And with all of those games but Georgia Tech-Georgia taking place on ACC turf (and with that one being an intrastate game), the ACC’s requirement that non-conference games be played in the ACC school’s state didn’t seem to pose a problem for those particular games. So the ACC did very much leave a chance for these games to happen. (Whether the conferences would have agreed on testing protocols and so on remains a question, but it’s a moot point now.) And there are plenty of politics involved in all of those rivalry games, so it’s useful for the ACC and their schools to be able to say “No, we didn’t cancel those, the SEC did.” And that may have some implications for if, how and where those rivalry games are played in 2021.
Of course, there’s some logic to the SEC going to conference-only play. That’s following what the Big Ten and Pac-12 have done (and what the ACC has largely done), and it makes it easier to create a schedule, and to leave room for adjustments to that schedule if there are postponements or cancellations thanks to the pandemic, and to standardize COVID-19 testing, quarantine and prevention protocols for both schools participating in a game. And the SEC now can completely schedule as they see fit.
And with this move made, the ACC may go conference-only as well. And so may the Big 12, which hasn’t announced much yet (other than cancelling a planned virtual Media Day they’d set for Monday, August 3 a day after they announced it). So it looks like this may be a season just with Power Five schools playing within their conferences. And that’s a further blow for the smaller-conference schools that got a large amount of their budgets from non-conference “buy” games at P5 schools, but taking care of them isn’t exactly a priority for the P5 conferences.
It goes without saying that all of this is subject to change, especially with recent increases in U.S. COVID-19 numbers. All sorts of season-planning at the moment is pretty hypothetical. But it’s definitely notable to hear the SEC announce that they’re shifting to a conference-only model, and to see the different games (including rivalry games) that wipes out.