by Ralph D. Russo
Plans for the 2020 college football season — if it is played — should start coming into focus this week.
They will trickle down from the top of major college football, with Power Five conferences putting in place revised schedules they hope will make it easier to manage potential disruptions brought on by COVID-19.
The Power Five commissioners talked a lot in the spring about the importance of collaboration and trying to launch the season together, with all of the Football Bowl Subdivision acting in unison. The way things are heading, that appears to be out the window.
Here’s where each conference stands with the first scheduled college football games about a month away.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
The ACC is looking at an 11-game schedule that would include 10 conference games and start Sept. 12. The headline-grabber is that Notre Dame, which normally plays five or six ACC teams per season, could be a full conference member for this season. The Fighting Irish have never played in a football conference before. That still needs to be worked out and other models are still being considered, including one with eight conference games and one nonconference.
The first conference to announce it would play only conference games. The assumption/speculation has been that the Big Ten would add another game to its existing nine-game schedule to get to 10 and have that in place before the end of July, but the conference has been typically coy about when it will reveal its plans.
The Big 12 has been the conference most publicly determined to try to play all its games. The president of Texas Tech made that clear in an interview with the Austin American-Stateman last week. And instead of delaying the start of the season, the Big 12 is taking the opposite approach, moving the start up to create more open dates for potential makeup games. Kansas has scheduled Southern Illinois (a replacement for another Football Championship Subdivision school) for Aug. 29. Oklahoma also pushed its game against Missouri State to the so-called Week Zero. There have been reports that TCU will play on Aug. 29 against UNLV in the first game at the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas. Both the Horned Frogs and Rebels had games against California canceled when the Pac-12 scrapped nonconference games.
The Pac-12 went conference-only a couple of days after the Big Ten, but it said it would deliver a new schedule by July 31. The San Jose Mercury News reported last week the Pac-12 is expected to go with 10 games and start on Sept. 19. That kickoff date could be moved back as far as Oct. 3 if state restrictions enacted to stem spikes in COVID-19 cases force Pac-12 teams to delay the start of preseason practice.
SEC athletic directors left an in-person meeting with Commissioner Greg Sankey in Birmingham, Alabama, a couple of weeks ago with a few scheduling models on the table. Conference-only games never made sense for the SEC (or the ACC and Big 12). Why prevent Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina from playing in-state ACC rivals? Auburn also is scheduled to play North Carolina from the ACC in Atlanta. The SEC could add a conference game to its eight-game slate. There has also been talk within the league of letting teams play as many nonconference games as they can to try to get as close as possible to a full 12-game season. The SEC’s final decision could linger into next week.
GROUP OF FIVE
It is not entirely fair to lump the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and Sun Belt together, but the fact is all are at the mercy of the Power Five in some way.
“We’re paying close attention to what the (autonomy) five are doing,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco told Yahoo! Sports last week. “We don’t have any illusions, they drive the train here.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have left holes all over Group of Five schedules and potentially in budgets. Many of those canceled nonconference games came with big paydays for the smaller schools. The MAC lost 11 games against Big Ten teams. The Mountain West is out 13 games, some of them home games, because of the Pac-12’s decision.
With the ACC heading toward dropping most of its nonconference schedule, a bunch more G5 teams are going to be out of luck. Big 12 and SEC teams might fill a few holes, but most likely they will have to turn to each other and FCS schools if they want to play more than conference games. Same goes for the independents not named Notre Dame such as BYU.
But is it worth it? Playing just conference games could save a bunch on travel costs. Those buy games against Power Five teams often fund a big chunk of the rest of the season. If that goes away, some G5 schools might not be able to afford to play a full schedule. Same goes for FCS.
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Ralph D. Russo is a college football reporter at The Associated Press.
About the Headline Photo: In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) is tackled by Clemson during the first half of an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game in New Orleans. The NCAA’s latest guidance for playing college sports during the COVID-19 pandemic recommends testing players once a week within 72 hours of competition. For typical Saturday football games, that means Wednesday would be the soonest athletes would be tested.Is that enough for a team of about 100 athletes playing a contact sport to get through a season without major disruptions? Especially, considering simply being exposed to someone who tests positive can land an athlete in quarantine for two weeks? (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)