The SEC made the unprecedented move Thursday to a 10-game football schedule featuring only conference games in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams originally were scheduled to play eight SEC games and four non-conference games. Now, they’ll play the six teams from their division, plus four interdivision games. Those two additional SEC opponents have not been determined, and the 10-game schedules will be released at a later date.
The season is scheduled to start on Sept. 26, three weeks after teams’ previously scheduled openers.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who will the Vols play?
That remains to be decided. SEC athletics directors will determine how each team’s two additional interdivisional opponents are assigned.
Don’t assume that the SEC will simply roll forward the scheduled interdivisional opponents from the 2021 and 2022 schedules. In Tennessee’s case, that would mean Mississippi and LSU would join the schedule. It’s more likely that the SEC ADs will determine the additional opponents in another manner.
Tennessee’s opponent for its season opener has not been determined. Initially, Tennessee had been scheduled to host Florida on Sept. 26. That remains possible, but dates for previously scheduled games could be shuffled.
When does practice start?
Neither the SEC nor Tennessee announced a change in the start date for preseason practice.
Aug. 7 remains the allowable start date for practice, according to NCAA rules, an SEC spokesman confirmed.
When will the season end?
The Vols’ regular season had been scheduled to conclude on Nov. 28, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Given the delayed start, regular-season finales for SEC teams now will be scheduled for Dec. 5.
The SEC championship shifted back to Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Each SEC team will have one midseason open date, along with an open date the weekend before the SEC championship.
What about the non-conference games?
Well, they won’t be played this season.
The Vols had been scheduled to host Charlotte, Furman and Troy this season. Those game contracts state that a game “not played as scheduled shall be rescheduled as such exigencies may dictate or permit.” That language suggests that Tennessee would need to reschedule with those opponents for future seasons or risk a breach of contract.
The future of Tennessee’s game against Oklahoma in Norman is murkier. Language in that contract does not mandate that a canceled game must be rescheduled. The Vols are set to host Oklahoma in 2024.
Oklahoma, especially, has a limited window throughout the next several years for a rescheduled game with Tennessee.
“We communicated with each non-conference opponent (Thursday) afternoon prior to the SEC’s announcement,” Tennessee athletic department spokesman Tom Satkowiak said in a statement to Knox News. “We are committed to working with each of them on a resolution, and that includes the potential for matchups in future seasons.”
What about fans?
Tennessee has not determined what capacity restrictions might be in place for games at Neyland Stadium. Athletics director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement Thursday that capacity limitations might change from week to week. He said the university is devising “several different capacity scenarios and ticket allocation strategies.”
About that season opener
Tennessee has not played an SEC team in its season opener since Sept. 3, 1988, when the Vols lost to Georgia 28-17 in a matchup of Top 25 teams. Tennessee lost six straight games to open that season.
This will be Tennessee’s latest calendar date for the season opener since it opened the 1962 season on Sept. 29 against Auburn.
The SEC schedule has never featured more than eight conference games during any regular season.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.