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BREAKING: SEC goes to 10-game conference-only model; start date pushed to Sept. 26

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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced the league will go to a 10-game schedule. Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

The Southeastern Conference announced today it will go with a league-only football schedule and the start of the season has been pushed to Sept. 26.

According to a news release published by the league this afternoon, SEC teams will play 10 conference games. The SEC Championship Game will be played Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It originally was scheduled for Dec. 5.

The updated schedule will be released later following approval of the SEC's athletics directors. It will include one mid-season open date for each of the 14 SEC schools. Also, there will be an open date Dec. 12 for all schools.

More information about fan attendance and safety measures will be released later, according to the league.

“This new plan for a football schedule is consistent with the educational goals of our universities to allow for the safe and orderly return to campus of their student populations and to provide a healthy learning environment during these unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 virus,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was quoted as saying in a news release. “This new schedule supports the safety measures that are being taken by each of our institutions to ensure the health of our campus communities.”

Sports Illustrated has reported that its sources say medical experts recommended games be pushed back to see what happens with the NFL and take into account spikes in COVID-19 positive tests when students arrive return to campus.

The league says the decision to have league teams compete only against each other 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."

“We believe these schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur,” Sankey said in the release. “It is regrettable that some of our traditional non-conference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures.”

Sankey said the schedule changes were made after discussions with league officials, school presidents and medical professionals, led by the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force.

“After careful consideration of the public health indicators in our region and following advice of our medical advisors, we have determined that this is the best course of action to prepare for a safe and healthy return to competition for SEC student-athletes, coaches and others associated with our sports programs,” Sankey in the release.

Further decisions regarding safety standards related to athletics events, tailgating and other game day activities, including social distancing, face covering and other health measures consistent with CDC, state and local guidelines, will be announced at a later date.

Alabama statements

—Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne: "We've continued to stay optimistic about having a fall season, and today's decision to move to a 10-game, conference-only schedule provides us with an opportunity to still compete and move our program forward in the safest way possible. The health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans has always been at the forefront of our decision making, and we are thankful to now have plans in place that allow us to move forward. We appreciate the hard work of Commissioner Sankey and the SEC staff as well as everyone involved across our 14 campuses to make these collective decisions together."

—Alabama head football coach Nick Saban: "We are pleased to have a plan in place for the Southeastern Conference this season. We believe it is the best option to keep players and staff safe and still maintain the integrity of the season. The safety of our team will be our highest priority throughout the season, but we are also excited that our players will have the opportunity to compete and play this season. I want to thank the leadership from our administration, our medical staff, the SEC and all of the medical experts that are guiding us through this process."

Auburn statements

—Auburn athletics director Allen Greene: "The health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and fans remains our top priority. In that spirit, we deeply appreciate Commissioner Sankey's leadership and the tireless efforts of the Conference staff during ongoing discussions related to fall competition. The Presidents and Chancellors' decision to implement a 10-game, conference-only schedule for the 2020 football season is prudent and the Tigers are fully supportive. While the format of the football schedule is confirmed, there are many other items related to football and other fall sports that warrant robust discussion, and the leaders in the Southeastern Conference are committed to working through these discussions in a thoughtful manner."

Other SEC sports

—Start dates and schedules for men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball will be announced later. The league announced earlier this month those sports would be postponed until at least Aug. 31.

—The SEC announced in July that student-athletes in all sports who elect to not participate in intercollegiate athletics during the fall 2020 academic semester because of health and/or safety concerns related to COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university and will remain in good standing with their team.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.