Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw prioritized building strong relationships with the neighboring ACC programs back in 2017 when the Flames announced they had received a waiver from the NCAA to transition to the FBS ranks and compete as an independent unaffiliated with a conference.
The bonds between Liberty and those ACC programs allowed the Flames to begin building schedules more than a decade in advance with high-quality matchups on a yearly basis. It also provided those ACC teams with a nearby FBS nonconference foe to fill dates when needed.
McCaw and Liberty utilized the strong rapport between three of those ACC programs to score a major victory and move closer to filling out a full 2020 football schedule.
Virginia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina State chose Liberty to be their “plus-one” matchup this season when the ACC announced its league schedule Thursday morning.
“We’re fortunate to have strong relationships with ACC members. Those games are desirable for our fans and our student-athletes and recruits,” McCaw said Thursday in a phone interview. “Aside from Notre Dame’s unique relationship, Liberty will have more nonconference games against ACC teams in 2020 than any other program. We’re very excited about it. I think it was both good scheduling on the front end, and again we’re fortunate to benefit from some really good relationships.”
Liberty was the lone remaining FBS opponent under contract to play at Virginia Tech, Syracuse and N.C. State this season, and the Flames maintained contact with those three programs following the ACC’s July announcement of an altered, shortened season.
The ACC announced last month its league members were playing 11 games amid the coronavirus pandemic, with 10 games against conference foes and one versus an out-of-conference opponent.
The Hokies and Flames were slated to open the season Sept. 5 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, and that game was moved to Nov. 7 with the ACC electing to not begin its season until the week of Sept. 7 through 12.
Liberty’s open week, previously slated for Nov. 7, will now be Oct. 31 following UConn’s decision Wednesday to cancel its football season. The Flames were scheduled to play at UConn on Oct. 31.
Liberty’s Oct. 17 matchup at Syracuse and Nov. 21 meeting at N.C. State did not change with Thursday’s announcement.
Liberty will be required to comply with the ACC’s COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Certainly we informed the ACC programs early on we would meet the testing requirements and that we wanted to play the games,” McCaw said. “We’re fortunate that it’s worked out in all three cases.
“We’ve already begun testing,” he added. “We have a testing protocol that’s been established and we’re following the protocol.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in June that requires travelers entering New York from a state with a higher than 10% test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average to quarantine for 14 days, consistent with Department of Health regulations for quarantine.
Virginia had a current seven-day 7.3% test positivity rate Thursday morning, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“Syracuse feels confident that we’ll be able to play that game as scheduled,” McCaw said.
The remainder of the Flames’ 2020 schedule also appears to be coming together. Liberty officials have been in touch with every team currently on the schedule, and all have indicated they want to play this season.
Conference USA programs Western Kentucky, Florida International and Southern Mississippi are moving forward with full seasons, and Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe aims to play a full slate, as well.
“At this time, we’re confident we have an 11-game schedule following the UConn announcement and the cancellation of their season on Wednesday,” McCaw said. “We expect to start the season on Sept. 12 with a home game against an FCS opponent. Obviously we’ve built contingency plans if there are any further cancellations.
“I have to say [assistant athletic director] Mickey Guridy has been doing an outstanding job working on the game changes and the contingency plans. Literally we’re working on this every day throughout much of the day. We feel, while certainly it is a fluid situation with football scheduling right now and we’re engaged in a lot of conversations, we feel very good about where our schedule is right now.”
Liberty was scheduled to play North Carolina A&T, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the FCS, on Sept. 12. The MEAC postponed its season with the intentions of playing in the spring.
A spokesperson from N.C. A&T told The News & Advance in an email Thursday the university “was not ready to comment about our intentions as it pertains to spring football.”
Western Carolina, of the Southern Conference, is scheduled to play at Liberty on Nov. 14. The SoCon announced Thursday it was still reviewing its plans for fall sports.
McCaw said he’s confident Liberty will have two FCS teams on the schedule this season. Two victories against FCS opponents will count toward bowl eligibility for this season only, and Liberty has been contacted by several FCS programs willing to play this fall, even with the possibility of no FCS championship being contested.
“The ones we’ve spoken with have said that they would play regardless, whether there’s a championship or not,” McCaw said.
Liberty has remained in contact with fellow FBS independents and formulated contingency plans in case teams currently on the schedule either cancel their season or cut back on the number of games played.
The other independent programs include Army, BYU, New Mexico State and UMass. The Flames and Minutemen are scheduled to play Nov. 28 in Lynchburg.
”We have had several calls among the independent group and we’ve communicated well within that group about contingencies and we’ve also spoken with a number of other schools about options,” McCaw said.
“I think a lot of it has been staying engaged in discussions and putting together multiple contingency plans depending on what happens.”