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Mizzou’s Sterk: SEC-only schedule a possibility

Eric Blum
The Examiner
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk on fall sports: "In a month, in two months, I'm hopeful it's a heck of a lot better and things are better than what we have. If not, then we have to pivot and adjust our plans."

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk understands that the guidelines and expectations of how to navigate a college football season amid the coronavirus pandemic remain extremely fluid.

Sterk said early into a conversation with reporters Thursday afternoon that no AD is more encouraged that there will be a full football season than they were three weeks ago.

Just minutes later, word began to spread about the Big Ten Conference switching to a league-only fall sports season, effectively canceling football matchups such as Ohio State vs. Oregon and Iowa vs. Iowa State.

No Southeastern Conference football team is scheduled to play Big Ten opposition this season.

Within half an hour of the end of Sterk’s Zoom news conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 Conference were reportedly lining up similar moves.

None of Missouri’s four non-conference opponents for the 2020 season (Central Arkansas, Louisiana-Lafayette, BYU and Eastern Michigan) are at the Power Five Conference level.

Yet with a majority of the biggest conferences in college athletics appearing to make the league-only move, there may be a domino effect throughout the NCAA.

“I guess I’m an optimist from the standpoint of, three weeks ago, we were really optimistic. People were saying they were going to have full stadiums and all of that,” Sterk said. “Now the pandemic has resurged a bit, if you will, and pro sports have stumbled as they started out of the blocks. It’s positive for us that we can see what’s working from their standpoint and apply that to decisions we make.

“It continues to change daily and weekly. In a month, in two months, I’m hopeful it’s a heck of a lot better and things are better than what we have. If not, then we have to pivot and adjust our plans.”

In light of the Ivy League suspending all fall sports Wednesday with hopes of moving seasons to the spring, things appear to be headed in a gloomy direction for the 2020-21 NCAA calendar.

Also Thursday, the ACC delayed the start of all fall sports to Sept. 1. The affected sports include volleyball and women’s soccer.

Sterk said the SEC has several different scenarios in mind for how the college football season may play out. Among them is a conference-only slate. If Missouri faces only SEC opponents, it is unclear whether any games would be added to the eight league contests currently on the 2020 schedule.

In addition to the Tigers’ six SEC East opponents, they’re slated to face Mississippi State and Arkansas. The Thanksgiving-weekend game against the Razorbacks is still scheduled to be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Sterk said.

“There’s all kinds of scenarios from full stadiums and no fans or no TV,” Sterk said. “And those are big numbers and we’ll have to deal with them.”

Despite revenue concerns, Missouri is not looking into cutting any of its non-revenue sports at this time, Sterk said.

Sterk said he expects decisions on fall sports schedules to be made before the end of July.

“We’re going to try to keep those as late as possible,” Sterk said.

As far as a conference-only model is concerned for Missouri, Sterk said there’s a comfort level within the SEC of every school following the same COVID-19 protocols.

“You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can anyway, versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states that are our footprint of the SEC,” Sterk said.