LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) – The Southeastern Conference has joined the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC and elected to play a conference-only football schedule on Thursday.
The news was first reported by al.com. The conference confirmed the shift in an announcement shortly after.
In its announcement, the SEC said it will play a 10-game conference-only schedule beginning on Sept. 26. The SEC Championship Game will be played Dec. 19 in Atlanta. Each school will receive one mid-season bye week, and all schools will receive a bye on Dec. 5.
With the SEC’s decision to cancel nonconference football games, New Mexico State’s previously-scheduled game at Florida on Nov. 21 will not be played. The game is supposed to pay the Aggies athletic department $1.5 million, but that is now in jeopardy because of the cancellation.
NMSU’s game contract with Florida includes a force majeure clause, and also lists the NCAA and the SEC among the potential issues that make it, “impossible or impractical to play the game,” which would then release the schools from the agreement, according to NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia.
Since the decision to cancel the game was made at the SEC level, it appears that the money that was coming NMSU’s way may be off the table based on the verbiage of the contract.
The Florida game is the third matchup on the Aggies’ 2020 schedule to be wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. NMSU’s Week 0 season opener at UCLA was canceled as the Pac-12 reverted to a conference-only schedule and the Nov. 14 home game against Texas Southern was removed from the schedule when the SWAC chose to move fall sports to the spring.
The game against UCLA was supposed to pay New Mexico State $1.2 million. The contract for the game does not include the same wording as the Florida contract regarding NCAA and conference decisions, which is where NMSU’s hope for receiving payment lies.
Make no mistake, the loss of $2.7 million is devastating for NMSU’s athletic department as a whole, not just the football team.
“There is no widget for us to say, ‘hey we could do this and we could get $3 million.’ I think the reality is that the salvation is going to lie in future guarantee games,” Moccia said.
NMSU does have guarantee games against Alabama and Kentucky slated for the 2021 season that will pay the Aggies $3.1 million and future games that will help in that regard as well. The 2020 Aggies are just hoping they get to play.
“I think everything is on the table and just worrying about it doesn’t do you any good. We’re just preparing like we know we’re going to play and we’re going to be ready to play,” said head coach Doug Martin.
Moccia told KTSM earlier this month that lawyers for the university are looking at the contract to see if the Aggies would be able to recoup the money without playing the game.
“If college football was postponed this year, I don’t think we’d have a very good case because we didn’t play any games this year either,” Moccia said.
With so much of NMSU’s $20.8 million athletics budget weighing in the balance, KTSM asked Moccia if the university would consider cutting any of its 16 NCAA athletic programs in order to cut costs. For Moccia, the short answer was easy: no.
If they cut programs, Moccia said, they would be forced to drop from FBS to FCS for football because in order to be an FBS programs, schools must sponsor a minimum of 16 NCAA programs. Any less, and they must drop to FCS.
Falling into the FCS division would dramatically reduce the amount of revenue NMSU could generate from playing Power 5 teams, Moccia said.
“It’s not really an option as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “That would mean your ‘buy games’ are cut significantly. You couldn’t make the engine work, nor could you ever pay back whatever financial damage occurs this year or the existing debt from years ago.”
With the SEC joining three other Power 5 conferences in moving to a conference-only schedule, only the Big 12 is left to make its decision regarding football season. UTEP has games scheduled against Texas Tech and Texas that could be wiped out if the Big 12 also elects to play a conference-only slate.
Once the Power 5s all make their decisions, the Group of 5 leagues – including the Mountain West and Conference USA – will do the same. If they, too, elect to play conference-only schedules, NMSU as an FBS Independent would be in a precarious position.
Moccia indicated to KTSM earlier this month that he had met with other athletic directors from independent universities to look in to the possibility of playing an all-Independent schedule.
As of now, NMSU is slated to open the 2020 season on the road at UAB on Sept. 3; UTEP is still scheduled to host Texas Tech at the Sun Bowl on Sept. 5.