KNOXVILLE – The SEC will stay in conference for its 2020 football season with each school playing a 10-game schedule comprised entirely of league opponents beginning on Sept. 26.
Other than one midseason open date for each school, an open date for all schools on Dec. 12 and the conference championship game on Dec. 19 in Atlanta, no specifics of the revised format were released on Thursday.
The reasoning behind the decision was the need for “maximum flexibility” for adjustments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing advice from medical professionals.
The starting date buys the league a little more time, which is wise considering the current situation within the region. The fact that Tennessee coaches and athletes continue to promote wearing masks reflects the ongoing scope of the challenge.
“We believe the schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in the conference’s news release.
UT’s season opener originally had been Sept. 5 against Charlotte. The conference opener against Florida was scheduled for Sept. 26.
By losing the non-conference portion of its schedule, the Vols lose four games and three likely victories. Along with Charlotte, they were going to play Furman (Sept. 19) and Troy (Nov. 21). Of course, that’s assuming there wasn’t another Georgia State looming in that group. It probably would’ve been a moot point, considering how much Tennessee improved after that shocking opening loss last season. The Vols finished 8-5, ending the season with a 23-22 comeback victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl.
But did they improve enough to stand up to powerful Oklahoma? The Sooners were the other non-conference opponent. The teams were scheduled to meet in Norman, Okla., on Sept. 12.
“A tremendous amount of thought and discussion went into making what we believe is a responsible decision on scheduling format, and it’s exciting to be making progress toward competition,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in a prepared statement. “Our student-athletes and coaches are working hard to prepare while prioritizing health and safety. There are still several logistical unknowns, but we appreciate Vol Nation being patient and sticking with us as we continue to work through these unique circumstances.”
Fulmer went on to say that the next determination will be how many fans will be able to attend games this fall in Neyland Stadium.
“We plan to coordinate with state and local officials on game-day attendance, understanding that potential limitations could change from week to week once the season begins,” Fulmer said. “This underscores the importance of the public practicing healthy habits statewide.”
There’s yet another reminder. It’s like a public service announcement within a news release.
“We’ve been working through plans for several different capacity scenarios and ticket allocations strategies,” Fulmer said, “and aim to communicate specifics once details are finalized.”
The SEC announced earlier this month that men’s and women’s cross-country, soccer and volleyball were postponed through Aug. 31. Their start dates and schedules, along with sports in their non-traditional seasons during the fall, will be announced later.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.