The South Carolina football team may be participating in a conference-only 2020 season. What are the pros and cons to all-SEC competition?
The Big 10 recently announced its plan to stick to an all-conference 2020 season slate, and it appears that other Power Five leagues will follow suit. Of course, this only applies if we are able to have competition in the fall.
For now, we’ll assume that major college football programs will push to compete this September, and that the SEC will join in this endeavor to salvage a fall season by participating in all-SEC matchups.
What benefits and drawbacks will the Gamecocks see in a conference-only 2020 season?
QUALITY OPPONENT EACH WEEK
An all-SEC slate will remove cupcake out-of-conference matchups versus Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, and Wofford, providing high-quality competition week-in and week-out. Fans and media alike often complain about Power Five competition against smaller, in-state schools. This format eliminates some possible snoozers and provides quality matchups each and every week, which could boost viewership and attendance (if applicable) for the South Carolina football season.
MEETINGS WITH LESSER SEEN SEC WEST FOES
Building on the last point, should the SEC remove non-conference opponents, it may call for a need to fill in those now open dates with league foes. That means the Gamecocks could have an opportunity to face off against lesser seen SEC West squads like Auburn, Mississippi State, or Arkansas. The Tigers and Gamecocks, for example, haven’t met since the 2014 season, but they’ve produced some close, exciting contests in their last few meetings.
WE HAVE FOOTBALL
The biggest benefit to take from all of this is that we will have football. Again, this assumes that the SEC will ultimately play this fall, but it certainly appears that the league is pushing for a September start, and this all-SEC format is another attempt to make that happen. A fall schedule gives fans quality football to consume, gives SEC universities some sort of football revenue for 2020, and, hopefully, gives everyone a sense of normalcy in what’s been an unpredictable year to this point.
One presumed positive of an all-conference schedule is that it allows teams to compete with opponents that are closer in geography, which could reduce the need for air travel in this pandemic. This isn’t the case for South Carolina, though, as their non-conference slate consists of three in-state schools and an opponent in North Carolina. All four are closer to the USC campus than the majority of the Gamecocks’ SEC opponents. On top of that, only the season-ending rivalry matchup was scheduled to take place outside of Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina may now be forced to replace these in-state games with trips to Alabama, Mississippi, or Arkansas.
A negative for the Gamecocks, when looking strictly at wins and losses, is that an all-conference slate possibly takes up to three wins off the board. Meetings against CCU, ECU, and Wofford were viewed as the only ‘gimmes’ in an already brutal South Carolina schedule. Removing those matchups and replacing them with the likes of Auburn or Alabama only makes that Gamecock slate more difficult. It could also bring about the possibility of having to face up to 10 SEC opponents in the same season, which has never been seen before. The league is one of two major conferences that still relies on just an 8-game conference slate, year-in and year-out. This would eliminate matchups where the Gamecocks can presumably build an early lead, rest starters, give young players experience, and cruise to an easy victory. It could have a negative effect on the health and performance of the team down the stretch of the season, as they’ll no longer have those ‘off weeks’ throughout the year.
This is the biggest possible negative of an all-conference slate in 2020. The Gamecocks and Clemson currently own the nation’s longest active streak of consecutive meetings between schools that are not in the same conference. The game has persevered through two world wars, the 2004 brawl, and countless other changes in our country. The 111-year streak is now in jeopardy. An SEC-only schedule would eliminate one of the nation’s top rivalries and break a mark that dates back to 1909.