X

Tech-UGA in jeopardy with ACC’s reported move to conference-only season

Georgia and Georgia Tech line up during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Georgia won 52-7 over the Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia and Georgia Tech line up during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Georgia won 52-7 over the Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

If in fact the college football season is played this fall, the defining game in the state of Georgia appears to be in jeopardy. It's believed that the ACC will follow the Big Ten in restricting its teams to playing only conference games, which may mean that Georgia Tech's annual rivalry game with Georgia may join the list of sacrifices made for the sake of health and safety in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brett McMurphy of Stadium reported Thursday that the ACC was expecting to play a conference-only schedule because of health and safety concerns over the coronavirus. The conference likely would make considerations for Notre Dame, an ACC member for all sports but football and ice hockey.

If there were to be a season this fall – the possibility seems increasingly unlikely – it’s not clear how longtime non-conference rivalries such as Tech-Georgia, South Carolina-Clemson and Florida-Florida State would be handled.

“Way too early to comment on anything,” UGA athletic director Greg McGarity told the AJC. “Have to learn more.”

» UGA'S McGARITY: 'Things trending in wrong direction'

Tech AD Todd Stansbury could not be reached for comment.

Tech and Georgia have played 114 times, including every year since 1925. Before that, the schools met each year but two from 1897-1916.

For most Yellow Jackets fans, the game held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving is unquestionably the most important of the year. This year’s game is scheduled for Nov. 28 in Athens.

Two reasons for shifting to a conference-only schedule would be greater flexibility in scheduling and a uniform testing protocol among league members. Given that the Tech-UGA game is the last of the regular season for both teams, it’s conceivable that the game could be played if both teams were available and willing. Should a season be played, it appears that such scheduling fluidity may be instrumental.

The ACC's expected move to a conference-only format would be the latest attempt to hold together a college football season that already has been significantly altered, the most significant change being the Ivy League's announcement Wednesday that its eight teams will not compete in any sports through the fall semester. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a Division II conference based in Atlanta that includes Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State, announced Thursday that it also will suspend competition in all sports for the fall.

Still, power conferences have sought to find a way to conduct their fall sports, seasons that begin in less than two months. The ACC announced Thursday, for example, that it was pushing back the start of the regular seasons for cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball until Sept. 1 to give schools more time to ensure that its protocols for safe competition will be in place.

Tech also has non-conference games scheduled against Notre Dame, Central Florida and Gardner-Webb.

The game against Notre Dame, scheduled for Nov. 14 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, likely could stay on the schedule. Notre Dame has six games against ACC opponents. As a league member that is contracted to play ACC opponents annually, Notre Dame likely will be viewed differently than other non-conference opponents.

Beyond that, there is a mutual interest in protecting the games. Notre Dame will need the games for a season and the ACC teams playing the Fighting Irish at home likely will want those dates as revenue generators in a year when revenue appears to be in short supply.

If Tech were to play a nine-game regular season (eight league games plus Notre Dame), it would be Tech’s shortest since 1941. But given the uncertainty that looms over the season, as even strength-and-conditioning workouts have had to be suspended nationwide because of COVID-19 infections, it’s likely players, coaches and administrators would happily take it.

Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this article.