SEC football: Pros and cons of a conference-only 2020 season

SEC football fans may be in for a bumpy ride as we approach what should be the start of the season.

Strap in, SEC football fans, because the dominoes have begun to topple and the dismantling of the 2020 college football season is unfortunately underway.

The Big Ten was the first Power-5 conference to break ranks, announcing today that all fall sports would be reduced to strictly in-conference schedules, including football, “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports”.

That’s the “if” college football fans have been dreading for weeks now.

That announcement by the Big Ten puts tremendous pressure on the other Power-5 conferences to take similar measures, and it’s being reported that both the ACC and Pac-12 are considering doing just that.

And what does that mean for the SEC? McMurphy said this shortly afterward.

It’s safe to say that the Power-5 conferences are going to all move to only conference games. Some may ask why this makes any sense since some of the in-conference travels are even further away than non-conference games.

The biggest reason is, in all likelihood, the start of the season can be delayed. Many teams play games against non-conference and FCS opponents for the first two-to-three weeks of the season. With those now being scrapped, the conferences can regroup and set up a schedule that probably won’t start until mid-to-late September.

So if the SEC joins in and predictably moves to a conference-only schedule, what are the positives and negatives of such a move?

SEC football in-conference only schedule negatives

The big Kickoff classic games would be gone this season

The SEC was scheduled to play in two of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic games; Georgia vs Virginia on September 7, and Auburn vs North Carolina on September 12. Neither of those games would be played unless both the ACC and SEC opted to make an exception. Likewise, Ole Miss taking on Baylor in the Advocare Texas Kickoff would be canceled.

These neutral-site, big-name games have turned out to be not only great matchups but in many cases, a key component in looking at possible playoff teams.

The loss of some great rivalry games.

If the SEC doesn’t take on any non-conference opponents, then some of the best rivalry games in the country would be set aside this year.

Georgia vs Georgia Tech
South Carolina vs Clemson
Kentucky vs Louisville
Florida vs FSU

All those games and more wouldn’t be played, and that’s painful for college football fans.

FCS and smaller Group of Five schools would lose revenue

Say what you will about playing cupcakes, one thing no one has ever disputed is that these games mean a lot to the small schools. Not just national exposure or getting to play in one of the cathedrals of the SEC, but, the thing that makes is all happen — money.

Payouts ranging from $500k to $1 million for games like this can sustain an entire athletic department for a year or more at these smaller schools. Without those funds, not only would the football programs be hurt, but every other sport at those schools would face big cuts or even shutdown.

Tougher job for the College Football Playoff committee

As if the job of selecting four playoff teams wasn’t hard enough, the elimination of non-conference games would essentially pull one measurable out of the equation. Strength of schedule can oftentimes be boosted or diminished based on the non-conference opponents.

If the SEC football teams (as well as other strong conferences) cannibalize each other in a shortened season of only in-conference play, it could make the playoff selection process nearly impossible to decipher.

SEC football in-conference only schedule positives

At least we’d have football

Even with all those negatives, at the very least, we’d have a football season and an escape from all the madness that COVID-19 brought with it this year. Fans are tired and weary of the gloom-and-doom news cycle and need college football to help them deal with all the abnormalities that have been forced on the public by this virus.

Even if fans couldn’t attend games, watching on television and interacting with other fans on social media as the games were played would be a welcome relief.

Some revenue is better than none

Even if there was only an eight or nine-game schedule, without fans (or limited fans) in attendance, there would at least be some revenue flowing to the schools. Advertising dollars mean a lot, and it’s likely that TV viewership would be through the roof. ESPN and the other networks that carry college football could essentially charge whatever they wanted for an ad spot.

Having some dollars move into the coffers could also spare athletic directors from having to make some very tough decisions regarding non-revenue sports. Many colleges, such as Stanford, have already begun to cut athletic departments to the bone. A college football season, even shortened, could keep that from happening to some beloved sports in the SEC.

No schedule excuses from other conferences

If the SEC only plays other SEC schools, then the gnashing and wailing from fans outside the conference boundaries can’t go on about “weak non-conference opponents”. When the regular season is done, then it will be clear the SEC has played a tougher schedule than any other conference.

Bowl season would be more fun

If we were to get that far without coronavirus mucking up the works, and if schools agreed to play in bowl games by the time December arrives, then the season that keeps on giving for two months would be even more generous.

Every game would be more meaningful, the conference-vs-conference rivalries would be renewed, and we might even get to see some of the traditional rivalry games that were canceled during the regular season set up as bowl games.

And let’s not forget, the SEC Championship game would be lit.