The approach of the league that has claimed 10 of the past 14 national championships plus five of the past 14 runners-up also differed from the fresh intent the ACC revealed Wednesday. That league allowed for 10 intra-conference games and the loud one-year presence of Notre Dame, but also for one nonconference game per school. The SEC’s decision for a schedule entirely insular means a strange one-season hiatus for certain SEC-ACC rivalries that often can seem eternal: Florida vs. Florida State, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and Kentucky vs. Louisville.
The new schedule also nixed two other familiar kinds of SEC nonconference game days, one a rarity and the other not.
It ruled out the smattering of games in which SEC teams dare to tack on and take on teams from other Power Five leagues, the most prominent being the visit Texas had planned to LSU for Sept. 12, seen as something of a barometer for both a wobbly former powerhouse (Texas) and a defending national champion (LSU).
It also canceled paydays for the usual horde of lower-tier programs on which SEC schools annually fatten their records — from Georgia State (which was to play Alabama) to Eastern Washington (Florida) to Nicholls (LSU) to Abilene Christian (Texas A&M) and back to East Tennessee State (Georgia).
Also going kaput was the traditional mid-November cupcake weekend, which for years has granted SEC teams a respite between bouts with their bruising brothers while wreaking sneers from fans around the country (as well as from within the SEC). It remains to be seen whether fans will consider that development an unintended boon. This year’s dessert menu included Tennessee Martin at Alabama and Massachusetts at Auburn on Nov. 14, and Louisiana Monroe at Arkansas, New Mexico State at Florida, Georgia Southern at Mississippi, Alabama A&M at Mississippi State, Wofford at South Carolina and Troy (which won at LSU in 2017) at Tennessee on Nov. 21.
As the SEC’s plan did prove similar to those announced earlier this summer by both the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, it also served to reiterate the inchoate nature of a sport that lacks a sole governing body or commissioner. Where the ACC move Wednesday had provided about 24 hours of hope for the sustenance of those SEC-ACC rivalries plus other games such as Auburn-North Carolina, for a richer schedule all told, the SEC snuffed out those possibilities in the messy national board game.
By beginning its games Sept. 26 rather than the Labor Day weekend, the SEC aimed to give itself more time to cope with a pandemic that has kept administrators, both in sports and in general, in an extended state of guesswork. An inescapable uncertainty has reigned over whether student bodies in general and then athletes in particular should return to campuses, some of which already have seen cases spread at gatherings. “The Southeastern Conference has established September 26 as the new kickoff for its 2020 football season,” the league announced, “to allow its universities to focus on the healthy return of their campus communities and the gradual reintroduction of athletics, as the 14 members of the SEC continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19.”
The league that sprawls across 11 states reached the decision, it said, after discussions among its presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, conference office staff, medical advisers and a task force. The league said it would announce specific schedules upon determination by its athletic directors.
One game did get a set date, moved from its old set date: The SEC’s annual conference championship game, which has sharpened six of the 12 teams to reach the College Football Playoff national championship game in the six years of the concept. The SEC title game, set for Atlanta, moved from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19.