One of the biggest and best rivalries in college football has become a casualty of the coronavirus. At least for this season.
For the first time since 1957, the 2020 college football season will not include the always intense matchup between Florida and Florida State.
The rivalry has fallen victim to the changes that have been made due to the threat of COVID-19. Following the lead of the Big Ten and the Pac-12, the Southeastern Conference announced Thursday it has elected to go to a 10-game, conference-only schedule this fall.
That means the UF-FSU game, scheduled for Nov. 28 in Tallahassee, is not going to happen. It will end a 62-year run for the rivalry between the Gators and Seminoles.
“On the disappointing side, (playing) FSU was a priority and because of where the league landed, we’re not going to be able to do that,” UF athletic director Stricklin said on a Zoom call with the media. “I don’t really think that’s where we want to be. We look forward to playing that game every year and had some success in recent years playing it.
“We were looking forward to playing it again this year. We’re just not going to because of circumstances beyond our control. We’ve got a virus that has changed a lot of things. This is unfortunately one of them. So really disappointed in that.
“Wish there was a way we could figure that out. But we’ll respect the decision we made as a league and look forward to try to support our coaches and athletes in as safe a way as possible.”
Stricklin said he’s talked with FSU athletic director David Coburn about the SEC’s decision.
“He didn’t say a whole lot,” he said.
An FSU official said Coburn does not wish to comment on this year’s rivalry being canceled.
Under the new SEC model, which was approved by the league presidents Thursday, UF’s schedule will consist of 10 SEC games. There will be divisions — East and West — as usual and the Gators will play the eight SEC schools already on their schedule and add two more teams from the West. The start of the season has been pushed back to Sept. 26. That’s the date that UF was scheduled to play Tennessee in Knoxville. The SEC title game has been pushed back to Dec. 19.
Stricklin said the schedule likely will be finalized by the league soon. There is speculation that UF would have to add the two crossover teams that are on next year’s schedule — Alabama and Texas A&M — but Stricklin said that speculation is unfounded.
“That was total speculation and spit-balling,” he said. “They’re going to give us the schedule. I’m sure it’s going to be fair and equitable. If there’s any particular concerns, we’ll voice them once they show us the draft. But I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with something everybody feels good about.”
Strickin said earlier this month, if the football season is played this fall, he’d like for the UF-FSU rivalry to be played.
It’s not going to happen now with the SEC’s decision Thursday. The opportunity would have been there if the SEC had followed the model released by the ACC on Wednesday, where its league teams are going to play 10 conference games, plus one game against a non-conference foe.
But the SEC — and the Gators — are going in a different direction, even though Stricklin let his feeling known among the other ADs that UF wanted to play FSU.
“I made sure everyone understood that it was important,” he said. “And Florida wasn’t the only school that has an important in-state rival that’s not in the SEC, so there were some other voices as well.
“The thing that drove that decision the most was once you start looking at starting late September, and there was a consensus that we wanted to try to play 10 conference games, you start really impacting the number of opportunities you have to play those games.
“And so, the league made the decision. We made the decision we wanted to move the conference championship game back a couple weeks. We wanted to keep that Dec. 12 date available for any rescheduling that needed to occur. And once you do that, you have 11 Saturdays left to play 10 conference games. We ran out of Saturdays.”
The way things stand now, UF will have five SEC home games, one in Jacksonville (Georgia) and four on the road.
Stricklin said the plan, for now, is to keep the Georgia game in Jacksonville.
“Talked to (UGA athletic director) Greg McGarity today. He and I are both of the opinion that if we’re able to get to the point where we play that game, we would like to try to play it in Jacksonville,” Stricklin said. “The benefit there is that that’s a stadium that will have hosted NFL games and will have whatever protocol needs to be in place and will be able to accommodate that. Our hope and our goal is to try and play that game in Jacksonville and we’re going to go down that path and see if that’s going to be feasible for us.”
Stricklin said UF and the other league schools will have a better idea about how many fans will be allowed to attend games as they move closer to the start of the season.
“Once we have an idea of what our attendance capacity could be, we will release our ticketing and seating plan and communicate that to our 2020 season ticket holders,” he said. “That plan will include multiple, flexible options for 2020 and whatever option they choose, their season tickets will be available for them to renew in the 2021 season.”
FSU isn’t the only UF non-conference game that’s been canceled. Home games against Eastern Washington, South Alabama and New Mexico State have also fallen by the wayside.
Those three schools were expecting to get a combined payout from UF of $3.475 million. How much UF owes those schools, if any, will be determined through the legal process, Stricklin said.
“Since those are outstanding contractual issues that probably need to be resolved between legal counsel, I probably don’t need to comment right now,” he said.