HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi Thursday afternoon found itself with a pair of holes in its 2020 football schedule and quite possibly a $1.45 million deficit in its fiscal year 2021 athletic budget.
The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday that its 14 members would play a conference-only schedule this fall because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision erased USM’s scheduled Sept. 26 trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face Auburn University for the second time in three seasons.
The Golden Eagles already were down a game in 2020, after the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s announced July 20 the cancellation of its fall sports calendar.
That left a vacancy in USM’s home schedule, Sept. 19, when Jackson State University was scheduled to head down U.S. 49 south to take on the Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
USM athletic director Jeremy McClain said last week that negotiations were ongoing to fill the JSU slot.
Thursday afternoon, McClain received a phone call to inform him that his search had just doubled.
“I appreciate Auburn AD, Allen Greene, reaching out this afternoon to let me know that the SEC has decided to move to a 10-game, conference-only schedule for the 2020 season,” McClain said in a statement released late Thursday afternoon. “Obviously, this affects our contracted game at Auburn of Sept. 26.
“I am disappointed for our student-athletes and our fans that this game will not happen, but we will make every effort to find a quality opponent to add to our schedule. Although the situation is fluid, we look forward to continuing to prepare for our season and will be communicating health and safety protocols for (Roberts Stadium) to our fan base over the next few weeks.”
The SEC’s announcement Thursday not only deprived USM of the marquee game of its football schedule, but also quite possibly the remaining $1.45 million of a $1.85 million guarantee Auburn was paying USM to visit The Plain.
The contract, signed in 2016, called for $400,000 of the guarantee to be paid in advance between July 1, 2017 and July 30, 2019. USM would be paid the remaining $1.45 million no later than March 2021.
A clause in the contract specifically lists certain “causes” where “both parties shall be relieved of any and obligations of this agreement,” including fire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, war, invasion, hostilities, rebellion and insurrection.
A pandemic is not specifically listed in a clause full of specifics.
But the clause also allows for the game’s “… confiscation by order of the government, military or public authority or prohibitory or governmental authority, including the Southeastern Conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.”
If Auburn can argue that the elimination of non-conference football games in 2020 was required by SEC edict, it very well “be relieved of any and obligations of this agreement.”
McClain’s statement was the only comment USM would make on Thursday’s developments.
McClain did not address any financial matters, including whether USM had received the $400,000 portion of the guarantee, and if so, whether the university would be able to keep the advance.