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Auburn-North Carolina non-conference football game in Atlanta in doubt

Auburn football teaser

Sep 1, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers cheerleader waves a flag against the Washington Huskies in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN — The marquee non-conference matchup between Auburn and North Carolina set for Sept. 12 in Atlanta is in doubt.

In fact, Auburn might not be playing any non-conference games at all this season.

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that "if public health guidance allows," it will proceed with an 11-game football season this fall — 10 conference games, plus one against a non-conference opponent.

That non-conference game, though, "must be played in the home state of the ACC institution." The Tigers and Tar Heels were set to meet in Atlanta — that game is one of three Chick-fil-A kickoff games set to take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia is the home of an ACC institution (Georgia Tech), but not the one in question.

Auburn is aware of the ACC's decision and is weighing its options, according to a school spokesperson.

The ACC's decision appears to put the status Auburn's game against North Carolina in serious question. The teams could agree to meet in Chapel Hill, N.C., but Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday that the SEC is moving closer to a 10-game, conference-only schedule.

Such a move would cancel Auburn's game against North Carolina as well as matchups with Southern Mississippi and Massachusetts. The Tigers' season-opening game against Alcorn State was already canceled when the SWAC decided to postpone its fall sports season to 2021.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued a response to the Sports Illustrated report: "It is not appropriate to respond to anonymous sources and speculation. We continue our discussions focused on the return of fall sports, including football. We will announce any decisions at the appropriate time.”

The conference's presidents and chancellors are scheduled to meet virtually Thursday, but may not finalize a decision then. Preseason camp is scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

The contract for the game between Auburn and North Carolina called for both schools to be paid $5 million, but that total was in exchange for selling 38,949 tickets. Even if the game was played, it's not clear whether state guidelines related to COVID-19 would even allow that many fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — the Atlanta Falcons said last week they plan to allow only 10,000-20,000 fans through the gates per game.

There is no language in the contract addressing the potential cancellation of the game.

Contracts for the games against Southern Mississippi (Sept. 26) and Massachusetts (Nov. 14) call for Auburn to pay those schools $1.85 million and $1.9 million, respectively. There is, however, a Force Majeure clause in each contract that states if an order from the SEC makes it impossible to play the game, "both parties shall be relieved of any and all obligations of this agreement."

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