FAQ: Answering common questions about 10-game, SEC-only schedule
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The upcoming 2020 college football season will be far from normal as the sport attempts to push forward amid a global pandemic.
The coronavirus has completely altered life as we know it, including all levels of sports. On Thursday, the SEC made a major announcement that further changes the landscape of college football.
Instead of playing 12-game schedules that include four non-conference games beginning Aug. 29 or Sept. 5, the SEC will play 10-game, conference-only slates beginning Sept. 26.
There are plenty of questions surrounding this move, so HawgBeat thought it’d be helpful to answer some of them in an FAQ…
So the virus can distinguish between conference and non-conference games?
You don’t have to be an infectious diseases expert to know this is an absurd question. It is typically asked tongue-in-cheek by fans who don’t understand why non-conference games would be canceled and even replaced by conference games.
On the surface, that seems like a good point. It’s still a 60-minute game filled with close contact, so the risk should be the same whether it’s against Charleston Southern or South Carolina.
What that fails to recognize are the inequalities between the Power Five, Group of Five and FCS schools. The revenue difference between each of those levels is quite large, which means there are bound to be discrepancies in the amount of testing and other precautions the schools can take.
The SEC will be able to set specific, strict guidelines and protocols for its 14 schools that the Big South or Sun Belt might not be able to afford.
Why not allow one non-conference game against a fellow Power Five school then?
When the ACC announced it was implementing a 10+1 schedule, some figured the SEC might follow suit in order to preserve historic rivalries like Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville and South Carolina-Clemson.
Unlike smaller schools that probably couldn’t afford to have similar guidelines and protocols, the Power Five schools are much closer in terms of revenue and could probably pull it off.
The SEC’s reasoning for still going with a conference-only schedule, though, was because of “the need for maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments,” according to the conference’s press release.
If games are postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak, it is much easier for the SEC office to reshuffle the schedule if it only has to worry about games within the conference. If games like LSU-Texas and Florida-Florida State were still on the slate, the SEC would have to consider the Big 12 and ACC schedules, too, creating a logistical nightmare.
Is the situation really going to improve much in three weeks? Why delay the season?
The season was originally scheduled to start Sept. 5, with a handful of “Week 0” games on Aug. 29, but the SEC-only slates have been pushed back to Sept. 26.
It wasn’t a move driven by hope that the pandemic will significantly improve by the new scheduled start date, but rather in order to create a bigger window for schools to learn and adjust.
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek said the SEC’s chancellors and presidents were adamant about getting campuses up and running before trying to start the football season. That would allow the conference to see how things go when players intermingle with the general student population.
Fall camp will still start Aug. 7, so teams will also have a chance to see how things go when players start full-contact practices. There is a larger window to adjust practice habits in the event of an outbreak.
It will have an added benefit for schools like Arkansas that missed all of their spring practices. For the Razorbacks, it’s even more important because they’re installing a new offense and defense with a first-year head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.
Who will be Arkansas' extra two opponents from the SEC East?
Despite a widespread belief that Arkansas will play Georgia and South Carolina because those are the next two teams in its rotation, the SEC has not settled on the additional games for any of the teams in the conference.
Full schedules are expected to be released within the next week, with SEC Executive Associate Commissioner and CFO Mark Womack in charge of putting them together.
Will fans be allowed at Razorback Stadium this season?
Earlier this summer, Arkansas stopped selling single-game tickets for the 2020 season and was selling only season ticket packages. Yurachek said he intended for those tickets to be honored, but now it sounds like Reynolds Razorback Stadium may be at just 25 percent capacity because of social distancing policies.
That means only 19,000 fans would be allowed inside. It is unclear how the UA will go about choose who does and doesn’t get tickets, but it did say in a statement that additional information will be available in the coming weeks.
For a more detailed story on why that is the case and Yurachek’s comments on it, click here.
Will the Razorbacks still play Texas A&M in Arlington and Missouri in Kansas City?
Texas A&M athletics director Ross Bjork had previously said if the SEC went to a conference-only schedule this season, he’d want to move the annual Southwest Classic from AT&T Stadium to Kyle Field in College Station.
Sure enough, soon after the announcement Thursday, Bjork released a statement that the two schools were in talks of making such a move. It is expected that Yurachek will ask for the Aggies to come to Fayetteville in 2021 as part of the agreement before finishing out the contract with AT&T Stadium through the 2024 season.
The Razorbacks were also scheduled to play their season finale against Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City this year. However, much like Bjork, Jim Sterk - the Tigers’ AD - wrote an email to students shortly after the SEC’s scheduling announcement that the game would likely move back to Columbia.
For more details, read the following stories:
What about the Notre Dame game?
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the SEC going to a conference-only schedule in 2020 is that it eliminates Arkansas’ historic trip to South Bend, Ind., for a game against Notre Dame.
Yurachek said he understood it was a game many fans have had circled since it was announced three years ago, so he is hopeful it will be rescheduled sometime in the future. For a breakdown of when that might happen, click here.
The Fighting Irish are still scheduled to come to Fayetteville for what was to be the return game in a home-and-home series during the 2025 season.
Does Arkansas owe anything to Nevada, Charleston Southern or ULM?
The other three non-conference games on the Razorbacks’ schedule are considered “buy games” - meaning the opponent is paid a guarantee to come play a game, in theory, they will likely lose. (However, Arkansas fans have learned that’s not always the case.)
The UA doesn’t reveal the amount of those guarantees, citing an exemption in Arkansas’ FOIA laws that protects competitive advantages, but it has been reported that Nevada and ULM were set to receive $1.5 and $1.4 million, respectively.
It is unknown the exact figure Charleston Southern was due, as it is a private institution and not required to follow FOIA laws, but it was likely somewhere between $500,000-$600,000, as that is how much Arkansas has paid other recent FCS foes.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, they are not on the hook for that roughly $3.5 million price tag because of the way the contracts are written. There is a clause within the “force majeure” section that protects them in the event of the SEC adding more games to the schedule - which is what happened.
That section also stipulates that the game should be rescheduled at the earliest possible date, which Yurachek has indicated he intends to do.
Will recruits be allowed to take official or unofficial visits during the season?
When the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled and spring sports called off back in mid-March, the NCAA also implemented a recruiting dead period. It has since been extended a couple of times and now runs through Aug. 31.
Yurachek said he expects it to remain that way for the foreseeable future, likely through the end of the calendar year. That would mean recruits would not be able to visit - officially or unofficially - campuses during the season.
If that comes to fruition as Yurachek expects, the early signing period that is scheduled to begin Dec. 16 will likely be pushed back or removed entirely.
(READ NEXT: Impact of potentially no more visits in 2020)
What about the other sports?
The first domino to fall came earlier in July when the SEC announced it was postponing soccer, volleyball and cross country competitions through August. That decision didn’t impact Arkansas’ cross country schedule, but did eliminate six soccer matches - including two exhibitions - and three volleyball matches.
Yurachek said those sports will still be played this fall and their exact schedules will be ironed out over the next week or so.
The next thing on the SEC’s to-do list will be figuring out the non-traditional fall sports, like tennis, golf, baseball and softball. Those sports’ regular seasons are in the spring, but they still compete or play scrimmages in the fall.
The ACC is allowing tennis athletes and golfer to play unattached - meaning individuals not representing their universities - this fall, but Yurachek said he doesn’t hope the SEC takes that path, as he’d prefer them to still compete for the Razorbacks.
Softball and baseball typically play scrimmages against other schools in the fall, with softball playing several and baseball limited to only two. Baseball coach Dave Van Horn previously expressed a desire to play more fall scrimmages to make up for time lost in the 2020 season, but not only is that extremely unlikely, Yurachek said there’s a “great possibility” that no scrimmages happen this fall.