Thursday afternoon the Big Ten announced that any fall sport that would be able to compete this coming school year would do so playing only conference opponents, due to coronavirus.
The B1G is the first Power 5 conference to institute such a rule, but reports have already surfaced that the ACC is likely to follow, which would likely bring us to a situation where all five conferences follow suit.
“The biggest thing is that this affords us an opportunity to be nimble and agile in an uncertain time,” Warren told Pete Thamel. “It all ties back to the health and safety of our student-athletes. It’s easy for us to manage operations, the schedule, and logistics when we’re focused on the Big Ten conference.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force shutdowns in states across the country and positive test numbers continue to rise, it has left college sports in limbo. How can you safely protect the student-athlete while also holding sporting events against other schools, at times hundreds of miles away from your campus?
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey released this statement Thursday evening.
“The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports. We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.”
Limiting schedules to just conference opponents helps in several ways. First, it would be easier to start, stop, restart a season if need be. It’s significantly easier for one conference to control and adjust its schedule when not having to negotiate with other leagues. In such uncertain times, with leagues, schools, presidents, and athletic directors trying to do everything they can to have a football season, that flexibility might be the key to playing games.
Playing only intraconference also would allow the SEC to mandate a certain level of testing and would ensure that its member institutions are meeting it and would eliminate concerns about playing other conferences and what standards they are using.
What would that mean for the Gators if the SEC were to institute a shortened, all SEC schedule?
This scenario has been discussed by the SEC, which is just one of a number of scenarios that the league has discussed as a possible consideration. In a shortened 10-game football season, for instance, Florida would play the other six teams in the SEC East and then four cross-divisional opponents. In 2020 that could look something like
That schedule doesn’t include Florida State. The Gators and Seminoles have played every year since 1958. Despite the popular opinion that Florida and Florida State are contractually obligated to play one another, that bill (House Bill 355) was voted down in 1955. Then Governor, LeRoy Collins, wrote to Florida President J. Wayne Reitz, requesting that Florida add FSU to their football schedule. With rumors that the ACC could soon follow suit, what would that mean for the annual rivalry game?
The contract that Florida and Florida State signed in 2019 runs through 2022. Section 12 of that contract addresses what would happen if playing a game becomes an “impossibility.
“If, prior to the start of a game, it becomes impossible to play the game for
reasons of power failure, strikes, severe weather conditions, riots, wars, or other unforeseen catastrophes or disasters or circumstances beyond the control of a party hereto, the Game shall be canceled, and neither party hereto shall be responsible to the other for any related loss or damage. Cancellation of a Game solely under this section 12 shall not be deemed a breach of this Agreement, and sections 13 and 14 below shall not apply. Notice of such a catastrophe or disaster shall be given as soon as possible. The punishment or sanctioning of a party by the NCAA or its relevant athletics conference shall not be considered “beyond the control” of the sanctioned party and shall not relieve the sanctioned party of its obligations, including financial obligations, hereunder.”
The conferences mandating only conference games being played would certainly fit those criteria, but perhaps an exemption for that game could be made. The SEC and ACC have four annual rivalry games (UF-FSU, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia-Tech, Kentucky-Louisville).
It isn’t normal, but we aren’t living in normal times. This scenario isn’t ideal but the Big Ten’s decision today may be just the first domino to fall, and if this is the best, possibly only, way we can have football safely this fall then it’s worth it.