With football season in flux, could WVU face a new opponent in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff?

College Sports

Organizers of football series share contingency plan: “You have to be as flexible as possible.”

Should college football season begin on time, West Virginia is slated to feature in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, one of the premier events of the opening weekend.

The lead organizer of that game is doing everything he can to make sure it happens, but it all depends on what the leaders of Power 5 conferences like the Big 12 choose to do with their non-conference schedules this fall.

“We’re modeling all kinds of scenarios and just waiting to see at the end of the month what that decision is,” said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl, Inc. 

WVU is scheduled to play Florida State Sept. 5 at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, but a number of details about that fixture could change, including the opponent. 

While the Big Ten announced last week that it will opt for a conference-only schedule this fall, the Big 12, ACC and SEC have not yet made those decisions. All three conferences have at least one team scheduled to play in the 2020 Kickoff Series.  

While a number of scenarios could play out before the Big 12 makes its decision in late July or early August, Stokan hopes the league will choose to maintain its non-conference schedule, or at the very least, opt for a conference-plus-one model. 

Stokan said he has petitioned the Big 12, ACC and SEC, asking the league’s leaders to work with organizers of the 2020 Kickoff Series and ensure that as many Kickoff Series games as possible are played. But if the three leagues opt for conference-plus-one schedules as a response to the pandemic, some of the series’ participants would likely drop out in favor of playing an in-state rival. 

In that scenario, WVU’s matchup with Florida State would fall off the schedule, as would Virginia’s Labor Day matchup with Georgia, producing an opportunity for the Mountaineers to instead meet the Cavaliers in Atlanta. 

“What I suggested is, we would play West Virginia vs. Virginia on Monday night [Sept. 7] on ESPN at 8 o’clock, which is a great TV slot, since everybody settles in for Labor Day and watches college football,” Stokan said. “So, I’ve expressed that to Bob Bowlsby and to Shane Lyons, and that would be our matchup if the Big 12, ACC and SEC decide to go conference only plus a Power 5 game.” 

Stokan says decision makers in these conferences, as well as the organizers of the event, must be as flexible as possible. 

“Everybody is putting a lot of scenarios together, with the hopes that the medical community will allow us to play, the conferences and the schools want to play the games because they’re playing conference plus one game,” Stokan said. “Thirdly, we’ve got to talk to the medical community about the capacity. We’ve got to update our deal with Mercedes-Benz all over because there are certain costs, restrictions and protocols, and lastly, we’d have to renegotiate with the two schools on their payouts.” 

Those payouts won’t maximize this year, Stokan said, due to capacity restrictions for the games. He said Peach Bowl, Inc. and the Atlanta Falcons estimate that attendance will be limited to 10,000-20,000 fans. 

“Obviously, that has a trickle down to how many tickets each team would get,” Stokan said. “Let’s say 17,500 is the number. You’re probably looking at 3,500 to 4,000 tickets that would be in West Virginia’s possession. Their position is that they have sold past that for this game already.”

Should any of the 2020 Kickoff Series games be rescheduled, Stokan said they’ll likely still be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, even if the start of the regular season is delayed.

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