About the only thing certain about this college football season is that we won’t have crowds like this one in Mississippi.

So the news of the day is that the Southeastern Conference has decided to play a 10-game, conference games-only football schedule this fall. Opening day is scheduled for Sept. 26. The SEC Championship game is moved back two weeks to Dec. 19.

We’ll see…

This news comes a day after the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that league will play an 11-game season that will include 10 league games and one non-conference game. Furthermore, the ACC setup will include Notre Dame as an ACC football team for the 2020 season.

Rick Cleveland

So at least we finally have answer to the age-old college football question: What will it take for Notre Dame to join a conference in football? A global pandemic, that’s what. Hell did not have to freeze over.

Interestingly, the ACC decided on the 10 and 1 format to allow for traditional in-state rivalries such as Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson and Georgia-Georgia Tech to be played. One day later, the SEC answered: No need, at least not on our account.

Early reports are that Kentucky and Tennessee will be added to the Ole Miss schedule and that Florida and Vanderbilt will be added to State’s schedule. Those reports have not been confirmed and very well could be premature.

What we all must understand is that all this is tentative. Nothing at all is certain. Right now, a 10-game schedule, all SEC games, is simply a best case scenario.

I say that because if you lay a map of the Southeastern Conference’s 11-state imprint over a map of the country’s region hardest hit by the pandemic, it’s almost a match. Florida leads the nation in per capita COVID-19 cases. Mississippi is No. 2, followed by Louisiana and Alabama. Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are all in the top 10 – a top 10 in which nobody wants to be included.

Unless these numbers change drastically – and there’s no indication that they will – it’s difficult to see a 10-game season being started, much less completed. Repeat after me: There is no social distancing in football. None.

Major League Baseball’s return to play has shown us just how iffy this all is. We are just a week into the schedule several games have been postponed. Six teams’ schedules have been altered. One team has as many as 19 positive cases. And this is Week One.

And that’s baseball, not football. That’s professional, not amateur.

Now seems a good time for a reminder that Mississippi’s current statewide restrictions limit gatherings to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors and call for social distancing of six feet of separation between persons who do not live in the same household. College football teams have 80 or more players. They are rarely six feet apart. Granted those are the guidelines until mid-August, but we have no good indication it will change. Our numbers have not been going in the right direction.

Let’s put it this way: Much must change between now and Sept. 26 for the SEC to have any hopes of playing that 10-game, league-only schedule. And so much still must be decided: Will fans be allowed? How many? Who gets in?

More than just SEC teams are affected by this. Southern Miss was scheduled to play at Auburn Sept. 26. That game, which would have paid Southern Miss $1.85 million, obviously won’t be played. And so an already strapped USM athletic budget takes a huge hit. These days, everybody is taking financial hits.

USM athletic director Jeremy McClain announced he will search for another game on that date. He was already searching for a game on Sept. 19 to replace Jackson State because the SWAC, to which Jackson State belongs, has postponed its football season until spring.

That SWAC plan, too, is a best-case scenario. Right now, until we have a vaccine, everything is tentative.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.