BIRMINGHAM, Ala — The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday it has established September 26 as the new kickoff for its 2020 football season to allow its universities to focus on the healthy return of their campus communities and the gradual re-introduction of athletics.
The announcement comes as the 14 members of the SEC continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said.
The 2020 SEC football season will be comprised of a 10-game Conference-only schedule and the SEC Football Championship Game will be played December 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, rescheduled from the original date of December 5. The schedule will include one mid-season open date for each school and an open date on December 12 for all schools.
"This new plan for a football schedule is consistent with the educational goals of our universities to allow for the safe and orderly return to campus of their student populations and to provide a healthy learning environment during these unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 virus," Sankey said. "This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities."
This action was taken following extensive discussions and thorough deliberation among the SEC's Presidents and Chancellors, Athletics Directors, Conference Office staff, and medical advisors, led by the SEC's Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force.
"After careful consideration of the public health indicators in our region and following advice of our medical advisors, we have determined that this is the best course of action to prepare for a safe and healthy return to competition for SEC student-athletes, coaches and others associated with our sports programs," said Sankey.
Georgia Director of Athletics Greg McGarity issued a statement following the announcement:
“The 10-game SEC schedule provides us the best opportunity to play football as safely as possible in a Covid environment. It’s disappointing the schedule model does not make it possible to play Georgia Tech; however, we look forward to renewing that rivalry in 2021," McGarity said. "I do want to commend Commissioner Sankey, his staff, and the University presidents and chancellors for their leadership in continuing to navigate these challenging issues."
McGarity said there are still things to be worked out, such as tickets and attendance at Sanford Stadium.
"We look forward to communicating our plan for attendance at home games in Sanford Stadium at a later date," he said. "We are thankful for the patience our devoted season ticket holders have shown during this time. We are committed to creating a safe and healthy environment for our fans that will respect and adhere to all Covid guidelines.”
The decision to limit competition to Conference-only opponents and rescheduling the SEC Championship Game is based on the need for maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments while reacting to developments around the pandemic and continued advice from medical professionals.
"We believe these schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur," Sankey said. "It is regrettable that some of our traditional non-conference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures."
The rescheduled start to the season will allow the SEC to continue to monitor health trends across its 11-state footprint, as well as monitor developments in technology around mitigation and treatment of the virus, including:
- Trends in public health indicators throughout the SEC's 11-state footprint, including positive cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and recovery statistics
- State, local and campus heath directives, including restrictions on gatherings, isolation requirements for travelers, and other health and travel restrictions
- Continued development of risk mitigation strategies
- Continued advancement in COVID-19 testing reliability and availability
- Continued evolution of time-based strategies for resuming activities after positive test results, including contact tracing, isolation and quarantine requirements
- Observation of successes and challenges presented by return to competition in other sports
A revised schedule for the 2020 SEC football season will be announced at a later date following approval by the Conference's athletics directors.