The American Athletic Conference has approved an eight-game league schedule for football, with the ability to play up to four nonconference games.
The AAC said in a statement Wednesday it will play its eight-game conference slate as originally scheduled, with league play scheduled to begin Sept. 19. Nonconference games can be scheduled before the start of league play; that is up to the discretion of individual schools.
"With the guidance of the health experts on the COVID-19 Medical Advisory Board and through the diligent work of the athletics staffs at our schools and at the conference, we have a sensible direction for the return of intercollegiate athletics in the fall," said M. David Rudd, president of the University of Memphis and chair of the AAC's board of directors.
"The safety of our students, staff members and campus communities will continue to be our top priority. We are confident that the protocols put together by our Medical Advisory Group will guide a safe return to play. As medical information evolves, we will update our plans in conjunction with national, state and local guidelines."
The AAC on Thursday confirmed that all athletes who opt out of fall sports because of COVID-19 concerns will have their scholarships honored.
Commissioner Mike Aresco said in an interview Tuesday that the league's athletic directors were in favor of that scheduling model, which was approved Wednesday morning.
"We've been leaning toward that for a while," Aresco told ESPN on Tuesday. "I didn't want to put a limit on the number of nonconference games because that would indicate we're not trying to play our schedule."
Aresco also said the league looked at playing eight or 10 conference games, but staying with eight league games was always the preference.
"We don't really want to play 10 because that would really limit the nonconference games," Aresco said. "The nonconference games mean something to us. We felt we could potentially play some Power 5 teams, we could play some Group of 5 teams that we want to test ourselves against, and we felt we could do it safely."
UCF athletic director Danny White said on a video call Wednesday that he wants to play a full 12-game schedule. UCF has home games against North Carolina, FIU and Florida A&M and a road trip to Georgia Tech. White is optimistic about the Georgia Tech game, but he can't move forward until the ACC makes decision about its nonconference games. North Carolina would not be able to travel to play UCF because the ACC is requiring all nonconference games to be played in the home state of each league team.
Though the MEAC canceled fall sports, White said Florida A&M has indicated it wants to try to play the season as an independent. White remains hopeful that game can be played Nov. 7. Because the Power 5 conferences made decisions to either eliminate or largely curtail nonconference games, programs in the Group of 5, like UCF, are now scrambling to fix their own nonconference schedules.
"I wish we were more coordinated in college football, that we had better communication," White said. "The last month has probably shown we need to get more organized nationally in college football. The lack of communication across the board has been challenging for people to make decisions. If anything, I'm grateful that we're finally at a place where we can start to make decisions where we can figure this thing out."
Several teams in the American have either lost Power 5 nonconference games or are awaiting word on the status of others. The American wanted to wait on making a decision on its schedule until after the Power 5 conferences. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC voted on 10-game conference schedules. The ACC will play a 10-game conference schedule with one nonconference game, and the Big 12 will play a nine-game conference schedule with one nonconference game.
The Sun Belt also announced an eight-game league schedule plus up to four nonconference games.
As ACC teams look to play their nonconference schedules, Aresco said there would be no travel restrictions in place. The ACC and Big 12 are requiring nonconference games to take place in their home states. Like those two conferences, the American will require nonconference opponents to meet the same testing and safety protocols that they have put in place.
"We charter, and we think it's a fair way to do things as long as the protocols are in place," Aresco said. "We've urged our ADs to reach out to nonconference opponents to make sure the protocols are in place, and there will be real integrity there."
Aresco said there also is flexibility in when the conference championship game is played, but that would all depend on where Navy fits into the picture, as the Army-Navy game remains scheduled for Dec. 12.