FAYETTEVILLE — A trend is afoot among Big 12 schools with a decision on fall football fast approaching and SEC presidents and chancellors scheduled to meet later this week to talk about COVID-19 issues and the possibility for playing sports in the fall.
The NCAA has issued a blanket waiver that will allow all Football Bowl Subdivision teams to schedule games as early as Aug. 29, Yahoo Sports and other media outlets reported on Tuesday.
The Big 12 was already moving in that direction, with Oklahoma sliding its season opener against Missouri State, which had been scheduled for Sept. 5, up a week to Aug. 29. Both of those teams asked for and were granted waivers to make the move.
The maneuver accomplishes two key things. It gives both of those schools more flexibility in their scheduling and it allows them to open training camps this Friday, 29 games out from the opener, per NCAA rules.
A University of Arkansas spokesperson said a move to a Week 0 game is not actively under consideration for the Razorbacks.
However, it made sense for the Sooners.
“If the season is indeed permitted to start as scheduled, the benefit of extra time between games will help our teams manage any variety of possible circumstances that may occur,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement. “Our original schedule had an open date between the second and third games, so now we will have a span of five weeks to play three games.”
The Sooners would open against Missouri State, play host to Tennessee on Sept. 12 after an open date, then travel to Army on Sept. 26 after another open date.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week his conference was still trying to play 12-game schedules and that university presidents in the Big 12 are willing to wait another couple of weeks before announcing plans for the fall.
However, there were reports on Tuesday saying Bowlsby and the Big 12 are also considering a conference-only scheduling plan that would start Aug. 29 and end on Dec. 12, giving the league 16 weeks to get in a 10- or 11-game slate.
Of course the movement and the planning could be for naught if conferences eventually elect to delay, abbreviate or push back the season. While many of the conversations about the coronavirus and the prospects for fall sports have been going on behind closed doors between conference, school and state officials, along with public health professionals and medical advisory teams, more public pronouncements are expected in the coming days.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said he planned by the end of July to provide some kind of update, which is expected soon after the meeting of the league’s presidents and chancellors. That group is expected to meet virtually later in the week to provide Sankey updates from their campuses regarding virus trends.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity, speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said, “To say that we’d have a decision by the end of this week, I just don’t know, honestly. I don’t know if that moves the ball any further down the field or not. I’d be afraid to say one way or another. You just never know when something might break. … I hope it’s imminent because we need to move on.”
The NCAA’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet next Tuesday. Last week, that body convened and elected to push back any decisions on fall championships until later.
The board of governors of the Atlantic Coast Conference is scheduled to meet next Wednesday.
While the NCAA’s decision on whether to conduct fall championships does not have a bearing on the College Football Playoff, it could produce a domino effect and influence public perception.
Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec, in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, said Big 12 presidents “generally want to play a full 12-game season” and they were “comfortable waiting two more weeks and maybe longer before making any definitive decisions.”
He also told the newspaper they still had time before making a call.
“So at what point do we have to make a decision?” He said. “We haven’t gotten there yet. But I also think we recognize the fact that if we get to a go/no-go point [we’ll] be prepared to act very quickly and pivot on a dime.”
Updated scheduling news is expected to start filtering out soon. The Pac-12 and Big Ten, who have both announced they are playing conference-only schedules, are having to re-work them but are apparently getting close.
CBS Sports reported on Tuesday that the Pac-12 is likely to go with a 10-game schedule with a conference championship game that could be played on any of the first three weekends in December. CBS Sports also reported Tuesday the ACC is considering a conference-only slate that would include independent Notre Dame, which already has six games on tap against ACC opponents, as a scheduling partner.
The Fighting Irish are currently scheduled to face Navy in their season opener and host Arkansas on Sept. 12, a game the Razorbacks would like to keep on their schedule. The Razorbacks game at Notre Dame is one of five between SEC and ACC teams, joining Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, and Clemson-South Carolina.
The Razorbacks are in the midst of their first full week of enhanced summer activity, which means 20 hours per week that include walkthroughs. If the current plans hold, the Razorbacks would open training camp on Aug. 7, 29 days before their scheduled season opener against Nevada in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.