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College football in a pandemic? SEC releases its 2020 season schedule

Alabama coach Nick Saban runs onto the field with his players before a game in August 2019.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

With the same force that it’s known for on the football field, the SEC continues its attempt to plow through the COVID-19 pandemic as it released its 10-game, conference-only schedule Monday. While other conferences, including the Pac-12 and Big Ten, have postponed their fall sports, SEC teams will start their seasons Sept. 26.

Teams will each have one open date occurring between Weeks 5 and 7 and another on Dec. 12 before the SEC championship game Dec. 19. Each team will play six divisional games and four nondivisional opponents, including two cross-over games that were added to the schedule after nonconference games were eliminated due to concern about the coronavirus outbreak.

Defending national champion Louisiana State opens the season against former Washington State head coach Mike Leach, who will be making his debut with Mississippi State. Former USC head coach Lane Kiffin will begin his tenure with Mississippi against Florida on Sept. 26 and meet his former boss Nick Saban on Oct. 10 when Ole miss hosts Alabama.

The Sept. 26 start date was chosen in part to allow time for people to return to campus and assimilate before beginning competition, SEC Ccommissioner Greg Sankey said on the SEC Network during the schedule release show.

To prepare for the unique season, Sankey said the conference is working to find a “third-party entity” to help support testing capacity for the schools and have uniform testing protocols across the 14 teams. Testing limitations as well as high rates of community transmission in local markets were reasons that led to the Pac-12 postponing its fall season this month, but Sankey said he’s noticed improving trend lines lately.

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However, that progress could change when students begin returning to campus. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced Monday it will be moving classes online after one week of on-campus classes resulted in 130 COVID-19 cases among students. Photos of large crowds of maskless people in college towns circulated on social media this weekend.

“As our campuses return, that’s been an incredibly important part of our decision-making process and that needs to be done in a healthy manner,” Sankey said on the SEC Network. “I’m concerned over some of the images I saw over the weekend, whether that will allow us to play football. That has to be on everyone’s mind.”


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