Mississippi NCAA football teams in the Southeastern Conference will play a 10-game, conference-only season this fall, according to an announcement from the conference.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Southeastern Conference (SEC) football teams — including Ole Miss and Mississippi State — will only play other teams in the conference, with the first game on Sept. 26. The schedule of each individual team has not yet been decided.
Teams will have a game each week, with one bye week built into each schedule.
"We believe these 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," Greg Sankey, commissioner of the SEC, said in a statement. "It is regrettable that some of our traditional non-conference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures."
The season will end with a championship game on Dec. 19 in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
On Tuesday, the SEC released an adjusted practice schedule for preseason football, including guidelines for practices, strength and conditioning, and meetings.
Teams are allowed to begin practicing Aug. 17 with 25 practices per week, limited to 20 hours per week. There is a five-day required acclimatization period with two days in helmets only, two days in shells and the fifth day in full pads.
This new preseason schedule will give teams an extra week to prepare for their first kickoff of the season, as the original schedule had preseason starting at Aug. 7 with the first game scheduled for Sept. 5. With this extra week, schools will be required to give players at least two days off each week until the week before the first game.
These new guidelines are stricter than those from the NCAA, allowing for more days off for players and fewer practices per week.
Some players are not happy with the season arrangement, though, according to reporting from The Washington Post. Players were told that the potential for positive tests for the virus was “a given” by an SEC official, according to the story from The Post.
On a call with SEC leaders, players questioned the decision to resume in the midst of uncertainty about COVID-19. Some cited the uncertainty of the virus’s effects on other student-athletes while others said they feared family members could contract it — some of whom have underlying health conditions.
"This new plan for a football schedule is consistent with the educational goals of our universities to allow for the safe and orderly return to campus of their student populations and to provide a healthy learning environment during these unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 virus," Sankey said in the statement. "This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities."
The conference will continue monitoring the spread and impact of the virus in the states of affiliated universities, according to the announcement. These states, including Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, have become recent hot spots for the virus, with more daily cases per capita than other regions in the U.S.
The SEC will also continue to monitor the technology and strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the announcement, as well as a focus on advancing the testing reliability and availability for COVID-19.
The conference will also monitor the spread of the virus on each campus, which have different policies and varying efforts to minimize the impacts of the pandemic among students, faculty and staff.
"We appreciate the leadership of Commissioner Sankey and our league's chancellors, presidents and my fellow athletics directors for taking this first major step toward a 2020 football season for our institutions," Ole Miss Athletics Director Keith Carter said in a university statement. "Most of all, we are grateful that our football student-athletes will have the opportunity to resume competition. We will continue to allow the health and safety of all those involved to drive our decisions as we move forward in the process. Upcoming announcements will include details on the capacity limits set forth by state leaders and the attendance plan for season ticket holders, students and fans, as we welcome the Ole Miss family back to Vaught-Hemingway this fall."
The SEC’s announcement also noted that some of the men’s and women’s sports, which were postponed before the end of the spring semester, still had no official timeframe to make up games. These sports include cross country, soccer and volleyball.