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Sterk: SEC schedule changes provide needed flexibility

Eric Blum
The Examiner
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk: "Delaying the season's start, kicking back the championship game a couple weeks gives us flexibility to deal with things that may happen during the season."

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk believes a 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only football schedule is the best way for the Tigers to have a fall season.

The SEC announced Thursday the move to scrap all 14 league members’ nonconference matchups but increase each team’s number of conference games from eight to 10.

The start date of the season is now Sept. 26, pushed back three weeks from Sept. 5.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Thursday the 2020 SEC games already in place for each team would stay on the schedule, in addition to adding two more cross-division opponents, though dates and times have yet to be announced.

Sterk said the East and West divisions themselves would stay in place, with an SEC championship game being set for Dec. 19 in Atlanta.

“Delaying the season’s start, kicking back the championship game a couple weeks gives us flexibility to deal with things that may happen during the season,” Sterk said. “... Campuses will start to fill up in the middle of August, and if there are outbreaks, that gives an opportunity to settle those down and get it under control.”

For Missouri, its SEC West matchups against Arkansas and Mississippi State stay intact, as well as its annual contests against the other six SEC East teams.

As for the other five SEC West teams not on the Tigers’ schedule, Sankey said no system for determining those matchups has been decided.

One common theory suggests moving up the traditional crossover-matchup calendar for the next two seasons. If that were the case, Missouri would add a home game against Texas A&M and a road contest against Auburn.

That would leave Alabama, LSU and Mississippi off the schedule. Missouri’s four home conference games in 2020 known so far are against Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

The game against the Razorbacks was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. Sterk said Thursday he believes that game will still be Missouri’s regular-season finale, but played Dec. 5 in Columbia.

That means former MU head coach Barry Odom, now the defensive coordinator for the Razorbacks, would have his reunion with the Tigers at Faurot Field, just more than a year after his firing.

Missouri loses its four nonconference matchups against BYU, Central Arkansas, Eastern Michigan and Louisiana-Lafayette.

For the five games played at Faurot Field this season, Sterk estimates a 20% capacity comprised of students and season-ticket holders. He also said MU will follow any local mandate in terms of mask wearing and social distancing at the venue.

Many expected the SEC would opt for the scheduling model announced by the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday that allows one nonconference game.

The SEC’s decision effectively canceled in-state rivalries such as Clemson vs. South Carolina and Florida vs. Florida State.

“If you have issues that come up in your schedule, when it’s all the conference, you have the ability to move games and have those breaks,” Sterk said of the positives of the SEC-only model. “If you have allowed nonconference, it brings in every other conference into the complicated schedule of trying to schedule the games.”

Sterk confirmed that fall camp is still expected to begin for the Tigers on Aug. 7, allowing for a seven-week preseason, making up for lost practices during the spring.

“I think we’re the only conference to host an in-person meeting of our athletic directors,” Sankey said of a mid-July gathering in Birmingham, Alabama. “... That was a somber experience in a way. First of all, recognition of how long it had been since we’d been together.

“But as we walked through the realities and challenges, I think it started the thought process in a deep way.”