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A Look at the Biggest College Athletic Conferences

The pandemic threw a wrench in college sports schedules, but big conferences have announced a modified schedule. Here's a look at what's happening this year.

For many people, fall means football—especially for college students, alumni, and diehard fans. But as many people suspected, this year will be different for college sports amid COVID-19. The million-dollar question this summer was whether or not colleges would have a football schedule and, if so, when would they release it?

Luckily, most of the big college athletic conferences decided on a limited game schedule, allowing college football–loving fans to get their fix this fall. But how exactly are athletic conferences determined, and just who will be playing? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular regional athletic conferences as far as their organization and plans for the fall 2020 season.

The most popular regional athletic conferences

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big Ten, the Big 12, Pac-12, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Ivy League are among the most popular and well-known regional athletic conferences. Minus the Ivy League, these conferences are known as the “Power Five,” the primary partners in the College Football Playoff tournament. There are many other conferences, leagues, and associations across the NCAA, NCCAA, NAIA, and beyond, but we’re focusing on these big six.

How athletic conferences are organized

Colleges in the ACC run all along the East Coast, from Boston College in Massachusetts all the way to the University of Miami in South Florida. According to Brandon Lilly of The Guardian NCAA Sportblog, the Big Ten is the oldest conference and consists of large land-grant colleges from the upper Midwest. The Big 12 includes colleges in the Great Plains states. Pac-12 is made up of colleges from the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain region out West. The SEC is made up of large colleges in the states that were formerly a part of the confederacy and is said to be the most competitive conference in the country, as a team from the SEC has won the national championship for the past six years. And the Ivy League athletic conference is just as it sounds: it consists of Ivy League institutions, which are among the most selective colleges and universities in the nation. 

Related: Why Student-Athletes Should Consider NAIA Schools

Atlantic Coast Conference

The ACC is made up of 15 schools:

Big Ten

Interestingly, the Big Ten consists of 14 schools:

Big 12

In another surprising twist, the Big 12 consists of 10 schools:


Staying true to its name, the Pac-12 includes 12 schools:

Southeastern Conference

The SEC is made up of 13 schools:

Ivy League

Finally, the Ivy League consists of the eight prestigious Ivies:

Related: 4 College Search Tips for Student-Athletes

Plans during the pandemic

The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC have been practicing before the fall semester began and playing football since it started. ACC and SEC teams are scheduled to play 11 games each this season, while the Big Ten has limited their game schedule to eight. Big 12 schools are allotted nine conference games and one non-conference game. The Pac-12 has postponed their seven-game schedule until early November, according to ESPN. And unfortunately, the Ivy League conference has cancelled their fall sports altogether this season and are hoping to move them to the spring semester. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s 2020 football schedule, “the Ivy League announced on July 8 that no intercollegiate competition would take place in the 2020 fall semester due to the continued coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.”

Beyond the overall conference plans and policies, each school has their own protocols as far as game day and stadium attendance. Florida State University President John Trasher issued new gameday attendance procedures requiring students who get a ticket and plan on attending football games to get tested for COVID-19 at the University’s testing site the Monday or Wednesday before the scheduled games.

Related: Resources Students Need During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The importance of college sports

Sports are a big part of US higher education culture, and colleges are working hard to keep their athletic programs afloat and in line with CDC health guidelines. Football in general is also a big part of our country’s culture, as it expresses our national identity and is in line with many of our values: working hard, getting back up when knocked down, and overcoming adversity. These are just some of the things our country needs the most during these times, and fans consider it lucky that many college athletic programs are continuing to work hard to allow football to be played this fall. 

Find the perfect college for you based on your athletic goals using our College Search tool.

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