Austin Peay, Central Arkansas to kick off 2020 season
It isn’t the schedule the NCAA planned, but the college football season will begin Saturday night.
The slate of games in Week 0, as the early opening week is known, originally included three Pac-12 teams in action, along with Navy and Notre Dame playing in Ireland.
But with the coronavirus pandemic creating chaos around college football, the honor of playing the first game of the season belongs to FCS opponents Austin Peay and Central Arkansas.
ESPN will televise the game, which is scheduled for a 9 p.m. kickoff from the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. Attendance at the 25,000-seat venue is being limited to 25 percent, and the tickets are sold out.
In 2019, Central Arkansas (9-4) and Austin Peay (11-4) both qualified for the FCS playoffs. Austin Peay advanced to the quarterfinals, Central Arkansas to the second round.
Central Arkansas athletic director Brad Teague recognizes the significance of the game.
“This is different,” he said, per USA Today. “And certainly because we’re the only game on Saturday and the first game of the college football season, the first NCAA contest since COVID shut it down in the spring, there is a lot more excitement.”
The players are thrilled to appear in the standalone game on ESPN, he said.
“They’re very motivated and very excited. For our brand and for our national recognition and publicity, we’re very excited about that. We know it’s going to be very positive for us.”
The schools have taken a number of steps to keep the players safe from the possible spread of COVID-19 on the trip. Austin Peay, for example, is traveling in more buses than normal to limit the number of people in each bus.
“We also understand the scrutiny that’s going to come with us playing while many others are not and being the first game when many have pushed back to September. We understand that,” Teague said. “We’re ready to face those questions and talk about our safety protocols that have been in place really since June.”
–Field Level Media