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How did college football’s 2020 season get to this point? The timeline behind the decisions

SHARE How did college football’s 2020 season get to this point? The timeline behind the decisions

Clemson running back Travis Etienne finds a hole in the Wake Forest defense during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP

SALT LAKE CITY — At one point, two of college football’s Power Five conferences had decided against playing the 2020 season.

In mid-August, only 76 of the 130 teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision level were set to play this fall.

Oh, how quickly times have changed.

How quickly, you ask? Here’s a look at the most significant timeline of events surrounding college football’s top division and how the novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted this year’s schedule.

July 9: The first sign that COVID-19 would greatly impact the 2020 college football schedule becomes official as the Big Ten says it will play only league opponents during the fall season.

July 10: The Pac-12 follows suit the next day, moving to conference-only play in fall 2020. “It has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities,” a league statement said.

July 29: The Atlantic Coast Conference sets forth guidelines for its 2020 season, with a scheduling model with 11 games (10 conference matchups and one nonconference). Also, independent Notre Dame will play a full ACC league schedule and be eligible for the ACC championship game.

July 30: The Southeastern Conference, too, elects to go conference-only and sets Sept. 26 as the new start date for its 2020 season.

July 31: The Pac-12 releases a revamped 10-game conference-only schedule, with the season to start Sept. 26. Each team is scheduled five games at home and five on the road, with a pair of bye weeks built into the schedule in case games need to be rescheduled before a planned conference title game on Dec. 18 or 19.

Aug. 3: The Big 12 announces it will utilize a 9+1 scheduling model for football, with nine conference games and one nonconference matchup for each member institution.

Aug. 4: The Sun Belt Conference announces its plans for the league’s 2020 schedule, which includes eight conference games, along with as many as four nonconference games, for each member institution. In subsequent days, two other Group of Five conferences — the American Athletic Conference (Aug. 5) and Conference USA (Aug. 7) — make similar schedule decisions.

Aug. 5: The Big Ten says its Council of Presidents and Chancellors has approved plans for a 2020 season, with a 10-game league-only schedule that will begin as early as the weekend of Sept. 5. 

That same day, Connecticut cancels its 2020 football season due to risks associated with COVID-19. The Huskies are the first FBS independent program to call off fall football.

Aug. 6: The ACC unveils its revised 2020 schedule, with an 11-game schedule that includes 10 games against ACC opponents and one versus a nonconference opponent. It will be played over 13 weeks, with two open dates.

Aug. 8: The Mid-American Conference becomes the first FBS conference to postpone all sports, including football, in the fall. The league says it intends to move all fall sports to the spring.

Aug. 10: The Mountain West Conference becomes the second FBS conference to postpone its fall football season. “We were hopeful we could carefully and responsibly conduct competition as originally scheduled with essential protocols in place. However, numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made this difficult decision necessary,” MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement.

Old Dominion, too, calls off all sports competition this fall.


FILE: In this Aug. 31, 2019, file photo, the Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio in Iowa City, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Aug. 11: The Big Ten becomes the first Power Five league to announce it will postpone all fall sports competition. “It became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement at the time.

Later that same day, the Pac-12 makes the same decision, calling off all sports competition through the end of the calendar year. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.

Independent Massachusetts also cancels its 2020 season that day.

Aug. 12: The Big 12, showing it is ‘moving forward’ with its plan to play this fall, unveils its revised 2020 nine-game conference schedule under the 9+1 model, with a league title game tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12. The one nonconference matchup for each team will be announced by individual schools.

Aug. 13: Independent New Mexico State postpones its football season and indicates it will explore the possibility of spring play. That leaves three FBS independent schools — BYU, Army and Liberty — who intend to play this fall.

Aug. 17: The SEC releases its new 2020 schedule for all 14 league teams, with a start date of Sept. 26 and league championship on Dec. 19. The schedule includes two open dates for schools that can be utilized for rescheduled games if needed.

Aug. 19: The Big Ten releases a statement that, in part, says the vote by the Big Ten Council of presidents and chancellors “was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.”

Aug. 24: The College Football Playoff announces the dates for when the selection committee’s weekly rankings will be released. That includes the final rankings on Sunday, Dec. 20, when CFP matchups will be announced.

Sept. 10: The ACC season begins with a Thursday matchup between Miami and UAB of Conference USA. The Hurricanes win, 31-14. Over that weekend, many other ACC schools play their season opener.


Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn (22) is tackled by a group of Arkansas State players during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Manhattan, Kan.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Sept. 12: The first Big 12 games are played, as seven of the league’s 10 teams play games. The dominant storyline, though, is that three Big 12 teams lose to Sun Belt teams: Iowa State to Louisiana, Kansas State to Arkansas State and Kansas to Coastal Carolina.

TCU’s game against SMU, scheduled for Sept. 11, is postponed, as is Baylor’s game against Louisiana Tech the next day.

Sept. 16: Following weeks of unrest around the league and reports about a possible return, the Big Ten reverses course and announces the conference’s 2020 season will indeed be played, with the Big Ten kicking off play the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” Dr. Jim Borchers, Ohio State head team physician and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee, said in a statement.

Sept. 18: Two days after the Big Ten declared it would play this fall, the Pac-12 — now the only Power Five conference not scheduled to play in 2020 — releases a statement regarding discussions about returning to play.

“The Pac-12 CEO Group had an informative and productive meeting earlier today. We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to Jan. 1,” the statement says in part.

Sept. 19: Big Ten releases a revised schedule, with eight conference games for each member institution beginning Oct. 24 — there will be no bye weeks — as well as a ninth game for each team during a Big Ten Champions Week on the weekend of Dec. 19.

Sept. 21: UMass announces it intends to play a limited number of games in 2020, more than a month after canceling its season, “following a positive review of the football program’s stringent COVID-19 safety protocols and rigorous testing regimen.”

Sept. 24: The Pac-12, like the Big Ten the week before, announces it will reverse course and play this fall, with a seven-game schedule beginning Nov. 6. The league’s championship game will be held Dec. 18.

“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts,” league commissioner Scott said in a statement. “Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams. At the same time, we will continue to monitor health conditions and data and be ready to adjust as required in the name of the health of all.”

Later that same night, the Mountain West also announces it will play football in 2020, after previously postponing the season. The season will start Oct. 24 for member institutions, and each team will play eight league games, with a MW championship game on Dec. 19.

Sept. 25: The Mid-American Conference also reverses course, announcing it will bring back its fall season after previously postponing it in August. The league will play a six-game, conference-only schedule that kicks off Nov. 4 and wraps up with the MAC title game on Dec. 18 or 19.

With the MAC’s decision, only three FBS schools — independents Connecticut and New Mexico State, as well as Conference USA’s Old Dominion — do not have plans to play in the fall. 

Sept. 26: The SEC begins its 2020 season with seven league matchups, including No. 8 Auburn hosting No. 23 Kentucky. The Big 12 begins conference play, including the first game of the season for both Baylor and TCU.