The SEC announced Thursday it will play a 10-game conference only schedule this season, which eliminates the annual Georgia rivalry game with Georgia Tech.

There are still questions to be answered about the additional two SEC games and how a reshuffled schedule will look.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity answered a range of questions in a Zoom call with reporters who cover the team.

Here is some of what he had to say:

Can you express not being able to play non-conference opponents?

McGarity: “Was I surprised, no, because that was the recommendation that was made to the presidents after our call yesterday, so I was not surprised in the decision. We had so many variations of models to look at that we had to narrow them down to two or three, which we did. But in the final analysis, keeping everything within the SEC was from a medical standpoint for the whole … there are four of us who have instate rivalries but there are 10 others who don’t. So, when you’re able to control your schedule from an SEC only, it’s more efficient, you don’t have to worry about trying to schedule when those games happen and how it’s fair to the other schools and knowing how you’ve got some flexibility on the back end with the SEC championship date starting later in the fall, certainly all of those things came into play, which led to the decision to play SEC games only.”

Is the delay because you’re worried about a spike in COVID?

McGarity: “We certainly listened to our medical professionals and felt like a later start would really put us in a better position from a health standpoint and be able to observe what’s going on with others who may start on time, we’d be able to see what happens in the NFL, just have more date to compare before we started. So, all those things lined up and certainly there were a lot of robust discussions in the room but we all planned it and agreed that the 10-game schedule was where we needed to end up.”

Do you expect you’ll open the season at Alabama and the next games in the SEC West rotation, Arkansas and Mississippi State, will be the two teams added?

McGarity: “I wouldn’t pay attention to any dates. The only thing that is certain is we’ll play our Eastern opponents and then we have Auburn and Alabama, obviously, and then two more. But we’ve not even started that discussion and it wasn’t the intent to go there first because it might have swayed some decision making if we knew who we were going to play. But we will start that discussion very soon with the Commissioner.”

On a personal level, do you feel anything emotional about the fact a rivalry game is being sacrificed?

McGarity: “Sure. That game means so much to everyone and it’s just unfortunate that it was affected. But there is so much change going on in today’s word and we need to be ready to expect the unexpected. It just happened it was not able to be worked out. It’s unfortunate, but we look forward to resuming the rivalry in 2021 and we’ll just go from there.”

Has there been any discussion of the Georgia-Florida game not being in Jacksonville?

McGarity: “No. I talked to Scott (Florida AD Scott Stricklin) and one thing we don’t want to do is play Florida here with a limited crowd and then go to Gainesville in 2021 with 93,000 fans. I don’t think we want to be in that position. Right now, unless something changes, that game will be in Jacksonville.”

As far as Georgia Tech game in 2021, will that still be in Atlanta or will that be sent back to Athens?

McGarity: “I haven’t talked to Todd (Stansbury) yet. We spoke last week. I’m sure we’ll have a discussion on that and see what we can do and have that discussion. Just so much has happened yesterday and today with the ACC. Todd and I just haven’t been able to huddle up on that.”

You all haven’t liked necessarily the set up of the end of your schedule when you play Tech on the road and when you play Auburn. Is that something you’d like to change?

McGarity: “We’ll just take a look at it. That’s something we don’t have to worry about right now. Certainly, that’s something we’ll re-visit here in the coming months.”

Will fans in the stands be a conference wide choice or individual?

McGarity: “As you saw in the release, I think the conference will set some expectations. I don’t think they’ll get down to particular numbers but the expectation of social distancing, the expectation of masking, the expectations that we will follow CDC guidelines. I think you’ve seen what’s happened in some NFL stadiums and I would expect probably college football to mirror that. The safety of everyone is of the upmost importance so whatever that will yield in our stadium that’s what we’ll go with. We’ve got a little time. It’s not pressing right now but as soon as we have the information on our opponents and our home dates then certainly we’ll be able those things at that time.”

If any of the other 10 schools had state rivalries like Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina, do you think there would have been more effort to save rivalry games?

McGarity: “That’s a hypothetical. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I know the scheduling aspect of it, open dates, trying to make sure you have some type of fair and equitable schedule drove the discussion but certainly that was a topic that was discussed. You have to remember there are 14 teams in the league and everybody doesn’t get their way every time.”

Did the chancellors and president change ADs recommendations or come back to you guys with anything?

McGarity: “They wanted to make sure the protections were in place for the fans. As you can tell in the release as far as the social distancing and making sure that the conference set guidelines, not getting into specifics, but there are certain expectations that anyone coming to an SEC game should have. They should feel safe, they should feel the institution is using the best practices. It’s going to be different. Masks will be mandatory. We’ve got a great plan. Give a lot of credit to Josh Brooks and his staff. We’ve had an army of individuals working on what would our social distancing plan be. We’re going through the final pieces of that now. Once we release that, I think those that are able to come to our games can feel they’re as safe as possible that we understand that some people that are able to come to the game may not feel comfortable coming to the game. We understand that. We’ll do our best to create the safest environment for anyone in the confines of Sanford Stadium whether that’s fans or student-athletes. That’s our charge.”

Have you had any initial talks with Virginia about getting them on for another year?

McGarity: “Well Carla (Williams) did call me yesterday after the ACC vote. I said, Carla we are not coming to Virginia, let’s just make sure that’s very clear, we are not coming up to Charlottesville to play as your plus-one. But no, Josh Brooks has reached out to East Tennessee State and ULM today, and we talked to them earlier, just asking them to be patient. Perhaps a future schedule, we just haven’t gone down that road yet to see if we have any openings. We’re kind of full. I haven’t gone down my schedule yet but we don’t have a lot of openings. So we’ll just have to let the legal experts work through that and see what flexibility we have, or if we have flexibility with Josh Lee and our schedules moving forward to maybe work that into the schedule.”

Any chance of going rogue and still play Georgia Tech just to keep the rivalry going?

McGarity: “There’s a mandate that we play 10 games. You have two open weeks. You’ve got one in the middle of the season that everybody has an open date on the 12th. I don’t think Kirby would be too excited to play 10 SEC games and then play Tech the week before hopefully, if we do well this year, to be in Atlanta. It’s unfortunate. It’s just the way everything fell. We’ll move forward and renew the rivalry next year.”

How hard is it to wrap your head around the Georgia Tech game not happening?

McGarity: “It’ll probably sink in here the next couple days. It’s unfortunate. And you’re seeing it really around college athletes this year. There’s so many abnormal situatios that are in play that will certainly create a lot of disappointment and unfortunate. It’ll just have to be an open year. I’d have to look back on other rivalries and see if there were times when certain rivalries didn’t paly. The pandemic has just created so many oddities that a lot of things are almost out of your control. It’s just one of the things that are unfortunate when you’re in a situation like that. It’s just unfortunate.”

University of Georgia president Jere Morehead issued a statement after the announcement

“It was clear in our meeting today that this delay would be beneficial to our student athletes and promote the safe and orderly return to campus for our student body in August. Having some separation between the earlier reopening of our campuses and the later start of the football season should be helpful.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey

On SEC decision:

“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.”

On going to a conference only schedule:

“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. 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.”

From SEC release:

The rescheduled start to the season will allow the SEC to continue to monitor health trends across its 11-state footprint, as well as monitor developments in technology around mitigation and treatment of the virus, including:

Trends in public health indicators throughout the SEC’s 11-state footprint, including positive cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and recovery statistics

State, local and campus heath directives, including restrictions on gatherings, isolation requirements for travelers, and other health and travel restrictions

Continued development of risk mitigation strategies

Continued advancement in COVID-19 testing reliability and availability

Continued evolution of time-based strategies for resuming activities after positive test results, including contact tracing, isolation and quarantine requirements

Observation of successes and challenges presented by return to competition in other sports

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