Rice Football will no longer be playing LSU this season after the SEC opted to play a conference-only schedule this coming fall to mitigate COVID-19 risks.
Non-conference games are dropping like flies. Prior to Thursday afternoon, Rice Football remained one of a shrinking list of FBS teams with 12 scheduled opponents. The Big Ten and Pac-12 had already announced conference-only schedules this summer. Two additional dominoes in the nonconference trimming fell this week.
On Wednesday the ACC adopted a 10-game conference schedule with one non-conference game. Those non-conference games have yet to be announced. For now, the verdict ostensibly puts several Conference USA teams at risk for cancelation. Rice had no ACC opponents on their schedule, but they did have an SEC foe booked.
LSU was scheduled to play Rice at NRG Stadium on September 19th. That game will not be played.
Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported Thursday afternoon the SEC would be playing a conference-only schedule in 2020. The league would delay their start date until Sept. 26, under the expectation there would need to be some lag time between the date students return to campus and the start of the season. That would allow for some leeway should there be a spike in cases when students return.
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Conference USA has not commented publically on potential scheduling considerations in recent weeks. At time of publication, no statement was issued from the league office in response to either the ACC or SEC decisions.
Rice Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard addressed the announcement directly in a statement:
“I’m disappointed we will not be able to play LSU this season, but given the current situation, it was not unexpected. I know our fans have anticipated hosting LSU for the first time in nearly 40 years since we announced it in 2016 and that excitement only grew after LSU won the national title last year. We will work with LSU to see if there is an opportunity in a future season to reschedule the game.”
Also in the release from the university, Rice indicated they plan to play the rest of their schedule as currently constructed: “Rice is currently scheduled to open the 2020 season on September 3 at the University of Houston and open the home schedule the following week when they welcome Army to Rice Stadium.”
Karlgaard confirmed as much in a follow up conversation with media on Thursday afternoon. He said the Owls are “still planning to play those games scheduled.” He also indicated he’d had conversations with the athletic directors at Army, Houston and Lamar in the past week. As of now, those games are still on.
In somewhat of an unconventional agreement, the original deal called for Rice to play LSU a guarantee. Rice planned to recoup ticket sales from the game, something that grew more and more unlikely as the date approached. As is the case with the bulk of the recently canceled games across the nation, it’s unclear how the dollars and cents will pan out in the end.
As far as a replacement game goes, Karlgaard isn’t rushing to add anyone to the schedule just yet. He indicated he would be listening to what decision-makers in the Big 12 do. There would also be a continual line of communication with Conference USA athletic directors and presidents, too. He called the notion of a traditional 12-game schedule “dubious” at this point in time.
Alternatives are being considered. When asked about the potential for a spring season, Karlgaard said the conference remains focused on playing in the fall “until its determined we can’t do that any longer.” He suggested sometime in early October as a potential cutoff point. But as is the case with the entire situation, everything remains fluid.
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