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How FSU could still open against West Virginia in Atlanta

The Peach Bowl's CEO outlines the contingencies for FSU-West Virginia, including scheduling options, safety protocols and a renegotiated payday.
Will Florida State be able to run onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium again, as the Seminoles did in 2017? Not even the game's director is sure.
Will Florida State be able to run onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium again, as the Seminoles did in 2017? Not even the game's director is sure. [ Times (2017) ]
Published Jul. 20, 2020

If you’re looking for answers about whether Florida State will open the Mike Norvell era against West Virginia on Sept. 5, you’re in good company.

The man in charge of the game isn’t sure, either.

“I know nothing,” said Gary Stokan, the CEO and president of the Peach Bowl, which runs the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Games at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But Stokan does have some ideas on the hypotheticals and contingencies surrounding his three early-season, non-conference games that might never happen because of the coronavirus pandemic: FSU-West Virginia, Georgia-Virginia and Auburn-North Carolina.

Florida State played a highly anticipated opener in Atlanta against Alabama in 2017.
Florida State played a highly anticipated opener in Atlanta against Alabama in 2017. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]

All three matchups remain possible because the ACC, SEC and Big 12 have not yet followed the lead of the Big Ten and Pac-12 by canceling their non-conference seasons.

Related: College football’s Hail Mary for the fall: No non-conference games

“The conference offices are modeling everything from playing the full schedule to conference only and somewhere in between,” Stokan said. “We hope that’s the case, whether it’s conference plus one or conference plus two.”

A conference-plus-one model is just what it sounds like — a full conference schedule plus one non-conference game. If the ACC and SEC choose this route, it would allow FSU and Florida to play their normal, eight-game league schedules while preserving their end-of-the-year rivalry with each other.

The downside for Stokan is that he’d lose FSU and Georgia (which has an in-state, out-of-conference rivalry series with Georgia Tech). In that case, Stokan would try to pair FSU’s axed opponent (West Virginia) with Virginia (which could no longer play Georgia).

Stokan’s preferred solution is the plus-two model. That would allow FSU and Georgia to play their in-state rivals and keep their games against the Mountaineers and Cavaliers.

As more conferences delay their seasons by weeks or months, how confident is Stokan that he’ll be able to host the Seminoles?

“I think the Big 12, SEC and ACC want to play their full schedules,” Stokan said. “I think what they’re doing is, they’re waiting as long as they can to get as much information and data points as possible before they have to make a decision.”

Those decisions likely will come by the end of the month and could include postponements, either by pushing back the start of the season, moving conference championships back a week or two, or both.

Related: Why Florida State, Seminole Tribe stand behind the Seminoles nickname

As Stokan waits, he’s actively discussing two of the other big parts of a potential college football season: safety and money.

If his kickoff games happen, they will be under strict safety protocols. Everyone will wear masks. There will be no on-field presentations, including performances by the marching bands or cheerleaders. Team boxes will be expanded, while club seating near the field will be eliminated.

“We are going to do everything we can to make the field as safe as possible,” Stokan said.

Florida State's last trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium didn't go well. The Seminoles lost to Alabama.
Florida State's last trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium didn't go well. The Seminoles lost to Alabama. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Event organizers are modeling the 71,000-seat stadium at 25, 30 and 50 percent capacity. Whatever they decide will have a big impact on how much money schools receive.

FSU’s $4.25 million payday is contingent on the Seminoles buying or selling 30,000 tickets at a total price just under $4.6 million, according to the game’s contracts.

“Obviously that’s not going to be achievable because there’s not going to be that many tickets,” Stokan said.

Which means new payouts will have to be renegotiated based on updated attendance numbers and extra safety expenses the event must absorb. Stokan said he already has been discussing those figures with athletic directors.

Once the three remaining Power Five leagues decide what marquee matchups, if any, the Peach Bowl will host during the regular season, Stokan and his staff will focus more on their other set of hypotheticals and contingencies: What happens to their prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game?

“It’s just, no one knows…” Stokan said. “Are the bowl games being played? Are they moving them back? Is the whole season going to be moved to the spring, and then the bowl games will be in May? Who knows?”

Related: How the Outback Bowl is handling the coronavirus pandemic, college football uncertainty

No one yet. But more answers will be coming soon.

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