When they tune in to watch the Vols play this season, Tennessee fans will only be watching their team face off against conference opponents.
On Thursday, the SEC approved a conference-only 2020 football schedule, with each team playing 10 regular season games. The season will start on Sept. 26.
The decision was made by conference presidents and chancellors in light of the COVID-19 crisis. SEC teams usually play eight scheduled conference games each season.
“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 said in a 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.”
Which two extra games each team will play has not yet been announced, but sources told ESPN that two proposals being considered are for teams to play their two 2021-22 cross-divisional rotating opponents or for the SEC to use a strength-of-schedule ranking system to decide the games. Two likely opponents for Tennessee to add to its upcoming schedule are Ole Miss and LSU. Ole Miss features new head coach Lane Kiffin, who coached the Vols for a season before unceremoniously leaving for USC, and LSU won the College Football Playoff National Championship last season.
“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 said.
“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 added.
“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.”
Tennessee Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer said in a release Thursday that the school’s current focus is a decision on attendance at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee will work with state and local officials to determine capacity limitations.
Fulmer also praised the decision-making of the SEC in the release.
“A tremendous amount of thought and discussion went into making what we believe is a responsible decision on scheduling format,” Fulmer said, “and it’s exciting to be making progress toward competition.
“Our student-athletes and coaches are working hard to prepare while prioritizing health and safety. There are still several logistical unknowns, but we appreciate Vol Nation being patient and sticking with us as we continue to work through these unique circumstances.”
Damarius McGhee, from Pensacola High School in Florida, announced his commitment to the Vols via Twitter. McGhee is Tennessee’s 24th commit in its 2021 recruiting class.
The 247Sports Composite rankings list McGhee as a three-star recruit and the No. 26 cornerback in the country.