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The ACC wanted plus-one. The SEC said, ‘No thanks’

November 30, 2019 Atlanta: Georgia tailback James Cook stretches for extra yardage past Georgia Tech defender Jaylon King during the first half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 30, 2019, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
November 30, 2019 Atlanta: Georgia tailback James Cook stretches for extra yardage past Georgia Tech defender Jaylon King during the first half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 30, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

’For a sport that technically isn’t yet in season, college football is making news on a daily – heck, an hourly – basis. This time Wednesday, we were agog over word that the 2020 ACC football champ might just be … Notre Dame! Today, we’re reeling at the reality of a football season in which toe won’t meet leather in the annual – well, no longer so annual – installment of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.

Georgia Tech will not play Georgia. Florida State will not play Florida. South Carolina will not play Clemson. Kentucky will not play Louisville.

For one day, the ACC gave us plus-one. Twenty-three hours later, the SEC handed us minus-one.

As has been mentioned a time or two, there’s really no governing body re: the biggest collegiate sport. The NCAA has nothing to do with the College Football Playoff. The Power Five conferences call the tune in football, and now four of the five have spoken. (The Big 12 has yet to take the floor; that could happen Friday.)

The Big Ten and Pac-12 previously announced that they adopted conference-only schedules. The ACC said Wednesday it would do the same, with the twist of allowing in-state out-of-conference rivals to continue hostilities. The SEC, which as we know CANNOT STAND to be upstaged, just said, “Not so fast, my (former) friend.”

The SEC took away the ACC’s plus-ones. The SEC is adopting a 10-game conference-only schedule, commencing – pause for effect – Sept. 26. This is two weeks later than the ACC plans to begin, and it’s even more in keeping with what we’ve been saying for a week now: The longer colleges can wait to start playing football, the better the chance college football will be played.

Six weeks ago, most everyone had it figured the other way: Sooner would surely be better. The virus, which has changed everything in our world, changed that, too. Its early-July spikes, especially in Southern states, made the heavy hitters in Southern-based football have a hard rethink. If the decision to play-or-not had to be made by July 31, with the expectation of Labor Day serving as the opening weekend, that decision would have had to have been: We’re not playing.

The ACC pushed the calendar back a week. The SEC shoved the ACC’s calendar in yonder trash can. “Here’s what we think of your plus-one,” the SEC essentially said. “It. Just. Means. Less!”

It’s kind of funny. It’s also kind of silly. But this is big-time college football, where playing to your constituency matters even more than it does in politics, which is, when you think about it, downright frightening.

The ACC will say that the only way to have an 11-game season is to start Sept. 12. The SEC just said, “We’d rather start two weeks later and stay at 10.” The best part of the SEC’s plan is that it gives that league another fortnight to monitor data before deciding if playing is, you know, do-able. In the less attractive sport of Conference Ego Gratification, it allows the SEC to say, “We’ll do as we please. We’re bigger than any Governor’s Cup.”

The upshot is that nobody’s schedule looks the same as it did … well, yesterday. The ACC took away Georgia’s opener against Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The SEC took away Georgia’s regular-season finale against Tech. Now it’s conference-only for all the Power Five conferences except the Big 12, though it’s hard to imagine that last-to-declare league not doing the same unless it plans to enter a home-and-home agreement with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The ACC reset its conference championship for either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19. The SEC left no wiggle room. (At least not yet.) Its title tilt will be Dec. 19 here. From the SEC’s release: “The decision to limit competition to conference-only opponents and rescheduling the SEC championship game is based on the need for maximum flexibility in making any necessary scheduling adjustments while reacting to developments around the pandemic and continued advice from medical professionals.”

That makes sense. We’re all at the mercy of the virus. But the dueling announcements from the two conferences who have claimed the past five national championships underscored the inconvenient truth about college football. Even during a pandemic, there’s no such thing as common ground. There’s my side, and there’s your side. You can take your plus-one and pound sand.

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