The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday it will play a 10-game, league-only schedule, joining the majority of the other major college football conferences in a decision that cancels non-league games and delays the upcoming season during the coronavirus pandemic.
SEC school presidents met Thursday afternoon and voted on the decision, a day after a majority of the league's athletic directors reportedly voted during a virtual meeting to approve the idea.
The league's teams will start their seasons Sept. 26, three weeks after they were originally scheduled to begin. The seven-team East and West divisions will still compete in the standings, and the SEC championship game has been pushed back two weeks to Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The SEC usually only plays an 8-game conference schedule each year, so teams will play two more schools from the opposite division to complete their schedules. Each team's schedule will also include one mid-season open date and an open date Dec. 12.
The elimination of nonconference games means LSU's highly anticipated contest against Texas, a Big 12 Conference member, is canceled. The Longhorns were scheduled to play Sept. 12 in Tiger Stadium. Instead the rematch of LSU's 45-38 win in Austin last season has been swept off the books, along with LSU's nonconference games against UT-San Antonio, Rice and Nicholls State.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement "as a conference we have been aligned in this process from the beginning."
“There is still a great deal of work to be done and many important decisions to be made," Woodward said, "but this is a big step in the right direction for our conference, our schools and our student-athletes.”
The season's new start date also throws LSU's practice schedule in flux. The NCAA has allowed teams a scaled return to practice, with limits, since July 13, and LSU is scheduled to report for its full preseason camp Aug. 6. This adds three more weeks of 20-hour-per-week practice time for teams, which could prove tiresome for some teams.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN's Paul Finebaum there isn't yet a new structure for preseason practice, but he said the league spoke with head coaches Thursday morning and told them "if there is a delay, they're going to have to alter their approach."
College athletic officials have been altering their approach since the coronavirus first spread in March, canceling all spring sports and forcing leagues to create protocols to safely proceed in the fall.
Even those protocols — which included testing, mask mandates and social distancing — didn't prevent alterations to the fall season.
On July 9, the Big Ten was the first of the Power Five leagues to eliminate its nonconference games. The Pac-12 followed days later, and the SEC at first only postponed volleyball, soccer and cross country competitions through at least Aug. 31 — a move that gave the conference more time to decide what to do with its football season.
Sankey often pegged late July for the SEC's decision, and it at first seemed that the Atlantic Coast Conference's scheduling decision might influence the SEC, since the two league's share many mutual games.
The ACC announced Wednesday its revised plan to play an 11-game schedule with room for one nonconference game and that Notre Dame will play a 10-game conference schedule and be eligible to play for the ACC title.
The ACC's games will begin Sept. 7. The league's 15 teams will play in one division, and the top two teams (based on win percentage) will play for the league title Dec. 12 or 19 in the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The ACC's decision, paired with the SEC's, outlines the inconsistent paths college football conferences have taken in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and they illustrate how many of the plans are at odds with each other.
The possibility for one nonconference game allowed the ACC to retain some of the major in-state rivalries its members have with SEC opponents: Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson and Georgia-Georgia Tech.
This was the source of some dispute among the SEC's presidents. According to The Athletic, South Carolina president Bob Caslen was the only vote against the measure, solely because they wanted to retain their rivalry game with Clemson.
Georgia also had two ACC games on its schedule: The Bulldogs were supposed to play Virginia in the season opener Sept. 7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Now, with the SEC's decision, all nonconference games are off the schedule.
“It is regrettable that some of our traditional nonconference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan," Sankey said, "but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures.”
A revised schedule for the SEC's football season will be announced at a later date pending the approval of the league's athletic directors.
The Big 12 still hasn't announced its official plans, and league commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN on Wednesday that the league's presidents will be presented with four or five scheduling models to consider when they meet Monday.
"We're going to arm them with all of the information they need to make a decision if that is their wish," Bowlsby said.
The Southeastern Conference is reportedly taking a major step to playing a conference-only football schedule this season.
The SEC's elimination of nonconference games wipes out swaths of so-called "guarantee games" that are substantial pay days for smaller athletic programs. Louisiana's Division I schools had nine nonconference games eliminated, totaling $11.925 million in lost revenue, depending on how contracts are interpreted.
Nicholls State was scheduled to play LSU in Tiger Stadium on Oct. 3, a game that would have paid Nicholls $575,000.
LSU's three other nonconference games this season all had their own substantial price tags.
UTSA was the season opener in Tiger Stadium on Sept. 5, a game in which LSU was to pay UTSA $1.4 million. LSU was supposed to pay Texas $1.5 million for its visit to Baton Rouge (Texas paid LSU $1.5 million for last year's game in Austin).
LSU could also miss out on the $3.5 million it's scheduled to receive from Rice for playing in Houston's NRG Stadium on Sept. 19 — the first of a home-and-home contract that has Rice playing in Tiger Stadium in 2024 for $2 million.
LSU's top athletic officials made it clear in the past that they intended to play football as scheduled. Coach Ed Orgeron told Fox News on July 15 he thought there would be a football season in the fall with "some adjustments" and that he thought "the country needs it." It was a similar statement he gave at a roundtable with Vice President Mike Pence at Tiger Stadium the day before.
Since then, coronavirus cases have surged in the SEC region. In the past seven days, seven of the nation's top 10 states by case numbers are states with SEC schools.
In Louisiana, positive tests for coronavirus have been found in all 64 parishes. There have been 114,481 cases and 3,811 deaths caused by COVID-19 in the state, and the Louisiana Department of Health reported a year-high 3,840 cases on Sunday.
LSU is still preparing to have fans in Tiger Stadium, releasing plans for cashless transactions and mobile ticketing in the last two days. The department is still preparing multiple scenarios for seating and capacity.