In late January, the Virginia football program announced its 2020 schedule. Fresh off a win over Virginia Tech and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2019, the Cavaliers hoped to ride a wave of momentum into the 2020 season and a marquee opening game with Georgia.
Six months after the initial schedule release, the ACC announced a new 2020 football schedule on Wednesday to account for a global pandemic.
The new schedule includes 10 conference games and one nonconference matchup that must occur in the team’s home state.
For UVa, that means playing Georgia in Atlanta isn’t an option.
News from the ACC meant a drastic change in UVa’s expected 2020 schedule. The original schedule was as follows:
Sept. 7: Georgia in Atlanta
Sept. 12: VMI
Sept. 19: UConn
Sept. 26: at Clemson
Oct. 3: North Carolina
Oct. 10: Bye week
Oct. 17: at Georgia Tech
Oct. 24: at Old Dominion
Oct. 31: Miami
Nov. 7: Louisville
Nov. 13: at Duke
Nov. 21: Pittsburgh
Nov. 28: at Virginia Tech
Instead, the Cavaliers’ 2020 schedule will include home games with Boston College, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and N.C. State. Road games will come against Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
Game dates are to be determined, but the first week of the season will be from Sept. 7-12. Each team will receive two open dates to allow for any potential schedule changes.
The open dates, if the season can occur safely at all, could prove critical.
Michigan State and Rutgers are among the programs quarantining for two weeks after positive COVID-19 case totals within the program halted workouts. If quarantine is required during the season, teams could potentially use open dates to reschedule postponed contests.
According to Dr. John MacKnight, UVa’s representative on the ACC’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group, there’s no set number of positive cases that would shut down workouts prior to the season or games during the season. While Virginia and other programs don’t necessarily have an exact threshold in mind, the possibility of stopping the season or practices still exists.
“I think we all sort of come to the same conclusion which is, ‘Yeah, I think I’ll have that gut sense when I reach a certain number that we’re no longer able to continue at least with this group and we have to pull the plug with them for a little bit,’ but we’ve sort of shied away from having that definitively placed in a protocol because none of us could completely define it,” MacKnight said.
The ACC’s Wednesday announcement did include a report of recommendations from the Medical Advisory Group. The recommendations included reasons games could be canceled, which ranged from local hospitals running out of resources to local health officials deeming communities unsafe due to rising COVID-19 case numbers.
A new ACC football schedule was announced Wednesday, but it doesn’t remove the uncertainty surrounding the feasibility of the 2020 fall season.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall has gone on the record saying he’d like at least eight games to be played for the 2020 schedule to count and feel like a full season.
“Anything less than eight I don’t think would be appropriate to ask of them,” Mendenhall said.
The schedule currently sits at 11 games, assuming COVID-19 doesn’t lead to additional changes in the schedule or the eventual cancellation of the fall season.
When it comes to opponents, UVa’s original 2020 schedule featured four nonconference games. If the 2020 season occurs safely, Virginia will play just one nonconference game, and it will have to be played within the commonwealth against a program with testing and health standards deemed acceptable by the ACC.
All of the nonconference teams originally scheduled are theoretically still options for that lone game, although the game against Georgia can’t occur in Atlanta. It’s also more likely Georgia and Georgia Tech would meet for the one nonconference game rather than UVa and Georgia.
The other three games were originally scheduled to take place in Virginia and one of those opponents – VMI, UConn and Old Dominion – could end up as the lone remaining nonconference team the Cavaliers face this fall.
Boston College, N.C. State, Florida State and Wake Forest are the four opponents on the updated 2020 schedule that didn’t appear on the original schedule. Of the previously scheduled foes, Duke turned into a home contest, and the game against Miami turned into a road trip.
Virginia’s road slate looks daunting, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s no official word on crowd capacity from ACC programs. If the season occurs, however, it is likely that crowds will be extremely small compared to typical seasons.
Typically, Clemson brings in just over 80,000 fans per home game. Starting Monday, South Carolina is reopening certain venues, but limiting mass gatherings to 250 people. There are possible exceptions to state guidance when it comes to crowd capacity at sporting events, but it’s likely that teams bring in significantly reduced crowds this fall.
That hampers any potential home-field advantage seen in a typical season.
Smaller crowds means UVa could benefit from playing in relative calm road environments against teams like Clemson, Florida State and Miami. The on-field questions surrounding Virginia’s matchups are fascinating, especially if home-field advantages are mitigated.
UVa football continues preparing for a season as August arrives this weekend. The start date of a potential season is just over a month away, and it’s still unclear if the Cavaliers will actually suit up and play games this fall, but the ACC made plans with the hope that COVID-19 doesn’t take away another college sports season.
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