COLUMBIA — There’s no telling what the pandemic curve will look like in the fall, and if South Carolina will even play the 10 games on its revised football schedule. As athletics director Ray Tanner said, “COVID still has a vote and we’re going to have to live with that.”
But it certainly appears that a game against Clemson for the 112th straight year will not happen.
“It’s probably complete at this point. You never say never, but I expect the schedule to remain intact,” Tanner said on Friday. “Nobody wants to lose the rival games and certainly we didn’t. The football rivalry as well as the rivalry in other sports is a big deal.
“The fact that we’re not going to play football (against Clemson) is a great concern to me. I’m emotionally affected by that and I know our fans are.”
The SEC’s decision to play a 10-game conference-only schedule Thursday trumped the ACC’s plan, which was released Wednesday. The ACC is allowing its schools to play 10 conference games and a non-conference game of its choice.
That cleared the way for the game, originally set for Nov. 28 in Clemson, to happen. But ACC teams are allowed to start playing the week of Sept. 7-12, and the SEC won’t begin until Sept. 26 on the advice of its medical task force.
That only leaves room for 10 games and two bye weeks before the Dec. 19 SEC Championship Game. The USC-Clemson rivalry has been played through wars and the Great Depression, but the coronavirus will pause it.
“We tried diligently, (Clemson AD Dan Radakovich) and I, we have been talking for weeks about doing our very best to keep that game on the schedule,” Tanner said. “We all wanted to play that game. But it was decided by the presidents and the chancellors in the SEC that we would not play that game.”
The S.C. state legislature has gotten involved in the rivalry before, passing a hasty proclamation after Clemson was barred from playing in the 1952 game. But that was one time, and a later bill proposing a permanent state law be passed requiring the game be played was rejected in 2012.
Could there be a repeat?
“I haven’t heard that,” Tanner said. “I guarantee you there’s interest, but whether there will be intervention or not, I couldn’t say that.”
There are questions about how all of this could affect future seasons. For instance, does Clemson get the rivalry game in 2021 to make up for the loss this year, or will the rivalry resume with two straight USC home games after the Gamecocks hosted in 2019?
“We haven’t discussed what happens next fall,” Tanner said. He also pointed out that football schedules are placed years before they’re played, USC’s model aiming to always have seven home games.
Tanner updated other areas of the new schedule, confirming it’s his understanding that the original eight SEC games for the 2020 schedule would stay in place and USC would add two more. Those were reported to be Arkansas and Auburn by radio host Paul Finebaum, but there is no guarantee of that.
Tanner also said USC is working with Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Wofford to get games on future schedules. It seems the legalese in the contracts protects USC from having to pay a combined $3 million to break those contracts this year since a force majeure and the SEC’s edict forced them to be called off.
“We’re working through that. The situation that you’re referring to in the contracts, you can interpret those in a lot of different ways,” Tanner said. “We want to reschedule the games as soon as we possibly can to maintain those relationships.”
The Gamecocks have a game at East Carolina already scheduled for 2021. It doesn’t appear there is a spot for Coastal or Wofford until 2024 at the earliest, and the 2024 schedule only has one open slot.
Tanner said he believes the projected Aug. 7 start of preseason camp will remain intact, but it will be a very different format due to acclimation procedures and time allowed for potential virus outbreaks once students return (Aug. 15). With the season not beginning until Sept. 26, preseason practice probably won’t start until late August.
As for attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium this fall, it remains a guess. Tanner said about 20,000 fans in the approximately 80,000-seat stadium would be a target.
Dodie Anderson dies
Dolores “Dodie” Anderson, a passionate booster and fan of USC athletics, died Thursday. She was 92.
“She was certainly a legend in the Gamecock family. She meant so much to our coaches and our student-athletes,” Tanner said. “She did so much for the state of South Carolina, with USC Upstate, Greenville Tech, the Girl Scouts, so many other initiatives. We’re going to miss her dearly.”
Anderson funded several athletic initiatives at USC, most notably the academic enrichment center that her name adorns. It was the first building constructed in USC’s campus-wide athletic overhaul.