When the Big Ten announced it was only going to play conference games, if it was going to play games at all this fall, the college football world was stunned. A day later the Pac-12 provided an encore, announcing they, too, would only play conference games if a season could be had in 2020.
The decisions from both conferences came quickly and caught the other Power Five conferences off guard.
“In a perfect world, I think the Autonomy 5 have done a really good job of trying to make decisions in concert,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said on a Zoom conference call Tuesday. “In a perfect world that would have happened.”
All 14 SEC Athletic Directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama on Monday. On the agenda was discussing where the league is in terms of bringing players back, their testing of and results of COVID-19 tests among student-athletes, coaches, and staff, as well as continued talks on how to provide a road to playing football this year.
Monday the SEC Commissioner, Greg Sankey, said that the league would wait and continue to monitor the progression of the pandemic and spread of the virus before they made any final decisions.
However, the league is committed to pursuing any avenue that will allow safe participation for student-athletes in their sports. If that avenue turns out to be a conference-only model, the league would adopt it. That would eliminate four non-conference games from Florida’s schedule, including more than $3.4 million dollars to three of those four opponents. The fourth non-conference opponent is Florida State and that simply isn’t a game that Stricklin wants to lose.
“Our focus continues to be on ‘How do we get to that point where we can compete?’ And once we get there, let’s look at what it means,” Stricklin said. “If we’re able to get to the point where we play a game, when we get to that point I want to play that FSU game. That’s really important to the state of Florida. I think it’s really important to both institutions.”
Four SEC teams have instate rivalries — Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville, Georgia-Georgia Tech, and South Carolina-Clemson.
The general thought is that moving to a conference only schedule is beneficial because it allows for flexibility in scheduling but also that it allows universal testing and safety protocol throughout the conference. The SEC may set a certain standard for testing, tracking, isolating, and traveling that may differ from another conference and that is simply out of their control. Having as much control in the current situation is an avenue to get back to playing sports. Still, if we can even get back to a point where football is being played, Stricklin, as well as FSU Athletic Director David Coburn, wants to figure out a way to make the annual rivalry game happen.
“It makes a lot of sense for us to try and play FSU assuming we’re on the same page from a testing protocol standpoint and logistics can be worked out,” Stricklin said. “Depending on where this thing ends up, it might be out of our hands, but I know that’s something that’s really important to us and I’ve talked to David Coburn and he feels the same way. That’s a good game for the state. It’s a bus ride. There’s a lot of reasons to try and play that game if at all possible.”
Stricklin also added that there have been no discussions about moving the Florida-Georgia game out of Jacksonville. The Jaguars recently stated that when the NFL returns they would keep capacity inside TIAA Bank Field at 25%.
“If we get to the point where we’re playing that game there that we would try and use as appropriate depending on where we are in the process and what the requirements are,” Stricklin said. “We really haven’t had any conversations about moving it to campus. our hope is to be able to play the game and to be able to play it in Jacksonville in some form.”