As college football attempts to reckon with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in varying ways, one of the country’s biggest programs is doing the opposite of postponing its return to the field.
The University of Oklahoma has received permission from the NCAA to move its scheduled Week 1 game against Missouri State up in the calendar, from Sept. 5 to Aug, 29, the school announced on Saturday.
Given that multiple Power 5 conferences have responded to the pandemic by delaying the beginning of football season and eliminating non-conference games entirely, that decision from the Sooners seems a little counterintuitive. Here’s why the Sooners say they’re doing it.
Why is Oklahoma playing its season opener early?
As Oklahoma’s release breaks it down, the school wants to arrange its schedule so that it can get bye weeks between its first three games for “more schedule flexibility in addressing potential issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Oklahoma’s new schedule now breaks down this way:
Aug. 29: Missouri State
Sept. 5: BYE
Sept. 12: Tennessee
Sept. 19: BYE
Sept. 26: at Army
That’s three games in five weeks to open the season, which Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione welcomed:
“If the season is indeed permitted to start as scheduled, the benefit of extra time between games will help our teams manage any variety of possible circumstances that may occur,” said Castiglione. “Our original schedule had an open date between the second and third games, so now we will have a span of five weeks to play three games. It provides us a more gradual approach to safely manage the conditions of these unprecedented times. We’re thankful to Missouri State for their cooperation during this process and to the NCAA for allowing both teams to start the season a week earlier.”
However, it remains to be seen if the Sooners will actually be able to face Missouri State.
The Big 12 is waiting until late July to make a decision on how to handle the college football schedule, per ESPN. The Missouri Valley Conference, which counts Missouri State as a member, is also expected to make a decision on playing the season early next week, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
If the Missouri Valley Conference’s decision prevents its programs from playing games early in the season, it’ll be back to the drawing board for Oklahoma. The Sooners also wouldn’t be the only Big 12 team to need a new opponent.
Kansas switches out Week 1 opponent
The University of Kansas announced Saturday that it would play Southern Illinois, part of the Missouri Valley Conference, to open its season after New Hampshire had to pull out of its Week 1 matchup.
“As we researched options for replacing our canceled opening game, we received recommendations from our medical professionals, reviewed the opportunity with our campus leaders, and looked regionally for a quality opponent,” said director of athletics Jeff Long. “Importantly, Southern Illinois agreed to follow the Big 12 testing protocols once they have been finalized. SIU provides us a challenge as we open the 2020 season.”
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