Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said he feels a sense of relief now that tahe Southeastern Conference has laid out a framework for football this season, which will feature a 10-game, conference-only schedule starting Sept. 26.
“I think it provides to me clarity,” Bjork said Friday on a Zoom press conference. “It provides the hope and optimism that I mentioned in my statement [Thursday], but it also ... just the mental aspect of this for our student-athletes, they need clarity. I saw several of them in the parking lot as I was leaving last night. You could see it in their face. They have some clarity, and I think that’s exciting.”
After a July 13 meeting with other SEC ADs, Bjork said he thought playing a nonconference slate, which included in-state home games against North Texas and Abilene Christian, was potentially safer than flying to play a scheduled conference bout with South Carolina. The priority shifted to pushing back the schedule a few weeks to account for an expected increase in cases as students return to campus.
“What’s going to happen when more students return closer to the start of school?” Bjork said. “And that was really the data. There is going to be an increase. What is that going to look like? No one can really predict for sure, but we have to anticipate that, which means we need to try to avoid that as much as possible.”
While the SEC made its conference-only announcement Thursday, schedules have yet to be released. Expectations were high for A&M this year based largely on its original schedule. Bjork said he expects the arrangement of games to change with the understanding that the SEC still plans to keep its two seven-team divisions in 2020. A&M’s previously scheduled East Division matchups with Vanderbilt and South Carolina should remain on the schedule with two additional opponents added, Bjork said.
“I would say right now we need to anticipate that it will look completely different,” Bjork said. “I’m not sure what the rhythm will be. I don’t know who we’ll open up with. I don’t know if we’ll open up at home or on the road. We really have no idea. Literally, we have not seen the models of what that looks like.”
Bjork said the SEC hopes to have schedules ready as early as next week.
The Aggies were originally slated to begin conference play against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sept. 26. Bjork said A&M and Arkansas are working to move that game to Kyle Field this season with an expectation that the 2021 matchup will be played in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The remainder of the contract with AT&T Stadium, which runs through 2024, will be honored but not extended, Bjork said.
As of Friday, A&M’s athletic department is preparing to host fans at 50%capacity at Kyle Field, per the order of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. While the capacity of Kyle Field is listed at 102,733, Bjork said the stadium can officially accommodate approximately 110,000 with concourses and club seats.
A&M has approximately 45,000 season ticket holders for the 2020 season, all of whom should have the opportunity to watch games in person. The amount of student tickets offered will be cut in half, Bjork said.
A&M will use touchless ticket scanning, and other protocols will be in place to keep people socially distanced when entering the stadium and moving around concourses. Facemasks will be required at all times inside Kyle Field, except while eating and drinking.
Ultimately, Bjork said the athletic department wants to give season ticket holders the choice to attend, while also cautioning those most vulnerable to COVID-19 to stay home.
“We want it to be a personal choice, and that’s the direction that we’re headed with our capacity plan,” Bjork said.
A&M plans on playing Colorado in 2021, fulfilling the second half of the home-and-home nonconference contract but moving the game to Empower Field at Mile High, the home of the Denver Broncos. Colorado approached A&M with the possibility of the neutral site game and the Aggies are interested, Bjork said. The 2020 edition of the series was initially canceled when the Pac-12 Conference elected to play conference-only games earlier this month.
A&M also has extended invitations to reschedule nonconference games with North Texas, Abilene Christian and Fresno State in future years, Bjork said, adding that A&M doesn’t expect to pay for this year’s canceled games.
“We don’t believe we have any financial obligations,” Bjork said. “This is a public health matter that is outside of our control and that will be our position.”