The SEC presidents and chancellors on Thursday approved a 10-game, conference-only football schedule for the fall that begins Sept. 26.
The full schedule will be announced at a later date. The revised schedule, which was altered because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, increases the SEC's usual conference slate of eight league games, which includes six divisional foes, one permanent cross-divisional foe and one rotating cross-divisional foe.
Sources told ESPN that one proposal heavily discussed for the two additional league games is to add each school's cross-divisional rotating opponents for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. For instance, Alabama would add Florida and Vanderbilt, and Georgia would add Arkansas and Mississippi State. The plan must be approved by athletic directors.
The SEC title game is scheduled for Dec. 19, two weeks later than planned, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The schedule includes one open date for each school in the middle of the season, as well as an open date on Dec. 12 for all teams.
The SEC made the changes to allow for "maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments while reacting to the developments around the pandemic and continued advice from medical experts," the conference's announcement said.
"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," commissioner Greg Sankey said in a 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 SEC became the fourth Power 5 conference this month to alter its schedule in order to provide more flexibility during the pandemic, joining the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. The Big Ten and Pac-12 previously said they would also play a conference-only schedule. The Pac-12 is expected to announce the details of its plan on Friday.
The ACC announced Wednesday it would use an 11-game schedule, which includes FBS independent Notre Dame, playing a full league schedule made up of 10 conference games and one nonconference game -- a model that was impacted by the SEC's decision, which cancels the traditional regular-season rivalry games between the ACC and SEC: Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville and South Carolina-Clemson.
Sankey said it's "regrettable" that those traditional rivalries won't happen in 2020, "but these are unique, and hopefully temporary circumstances that call for unconventional measures."
The ACC decided on its plus-one model as a way to accommodate the four ACC/SEC rivalry games. Syracuse athletics director John Wildhack, who was on a video conference call before the SEC announced its decision, said it was important for the league to support those rivalry games.
"If you can do things as a collective body and group that can benefit schools where it is important, I'm inclined to try to be a good partner and support that," he said. Asked if the SEC choosing a conference-only schedule would alter the ACC's format, Wildhack said, "In my opinion, no."
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said the SEC's discussion surrounding the rivalry games "was the tough part of this because obviously those games mean a lot to those four SEC programs."
"They obviously had to stand up for that, and believe in that," he said, "and it just came down to the shortened window of the season, and how do you get in as many games in as possible, knowing that you need to start later, and it just came down to a calendar issue where we're basically playing 10 games over a 12-week period, and there just wasn't room in order to give everyone the best chance to play as many games as possible. Those programs, they stood their ground and it was a great conversation. It just didn't fit."
The SEC's decision also resulted in the cancellation of several other marquee nonconference matchups that had been scheduled for the fall, including LSU-Texas and Tennessee-Oklahoma.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a statement the conference-only option is "the best option" to keep the players and staff safe while preserving "the integrity of the season."
"The safety of our team will be our highest priority throughout the season, but we are also excited that our players will have the opportunity to compete and play this season," Saban said. "I want to thank the leadership from our administration, our medical staff, the SEC and all of the medical experts that are guiding us through this process."
The SEC reiterated in its release that any student-athletes in all sports who choose not to participate this season because of health or safety concerns related to COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored and remain in good standing with their team.
The Big 12 is the lone Power 5 conference that hasn't determined its schedule for the fall, but its presidents will meet on Monday and will consider four or five models, according to commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
With the SEC's decision to go to a conference-only schedule, Louisiana-Monroe lost games against both Arkansas and Georgia -- totaling a loss of $3.2 million in guaranteed revenue from an operating budget of $15.5 million.
"It is certainly recoverable, but it's significant," McDonald said. "It's material. It's like in your household if you suffered a cut in about 20% income, you'd have to make some decisions. Is it significant? Yes, but we certainly will continue on if we have to make those adjustments."