Demand for more quality games, launch of the SEC Network, an emphasis on strength of schedule in the new College Football Playoff and a promise by Mike Slive don’t necessarily add up to a nine-game conference schedule in the SEC.
A rite of recent springs, discussion about adding a game to the format in place since 1992 will come up next month at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla.
The best guess is a majority of the conference’s 14 schools will endorse the current eight-game schedule and set a minimum for nonconference schedules. Such a move would meet the needs of TV and enable SEC teams to make a nine-game case to the CFP selection committee. It also would fulfill SEC commissioner Slive’s pledge that school presidents and chancellors would develop a scheduling “format for the 2016 season and beyond, which will be in the best interests of the conference.”
A year ago, Alabama’s Nick Saban called the nine-game schedule “best for the game and for the league,” but he’s probably the only SEC coach on that side of the issue.
Among the other coaches who offered an opinion, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said, “I’m going to be a coach like everybody else and be in favor of eight.”
In lieu of the nine-game schedule, the SEC is likely to require each school to line up at least one game per year against a team from one of the other four conferences that have contracts with either the Rose (Big Ten, Pac-12), Sugar (Big 12) or Orange (Atlantic Coast Conference).
If SEC schools are required to schedule a team from a so-called “contract” conference, advocates of a nine-game SEC schedule would have a difficult time selling their position. In fact, SEC coaches could claim that nine league games, plus a Michigan or an Oregon or such, would make for such a contentious schedule that the SEC might get shut out of the CFP.
A nine-game conference schedule is also under consideration by the ACC and Duke coach David Cutcliffe, head of the league’s coaches committee, is adamant in his opposition.
“I don’t see the value in it, and it’s not going to get you in the playoff system, if that’s what everybody is saying,” he said months ago. “What’s going to get you in the playoff opportunity is to have no losses or one loss. I don’t care who you’re playing.”
Point well taken. When the 2013 conference championships were over, Florida State was unbeaten and five other teams had one loss. In a similar situation, it is difficult to imagine an SEC team that loses one league game and a nonconference game being one of the four in the CFP.
By the same token, I wonder if teams that play nine league games will be eager to add an SEC team.
The Pac-12 plays nine conference games and the 2014 nonconference schedule includes five games against Big Ten teams, three games with Notre Dame and UCLA’s contest with Texas. The Big Ten begins a nine-game conference schedule in 2016 and the Big 12’s nine-game schedule is a round-robin.
Also, the ACC is beginning its contract with Notre Dame that calls for five games per year.
If the SEC does require at least one game with a team from a major conference, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia already have rivalry games against Florida State, Louisville, Clemson and Georgia Tech of the ACC.
Most of the other SEC teams also would be in compliance with such a rule this year. Arkansas begins a home and home with Texas Tech and replaces the Red Raiders with TCU in 2016-17. Beginning in 2018, Arkansas has a two-game series with Michigan.
This year, the two Mississippi schools, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt would need a schedule upgrade.
Strictly as a fan, the nine-game SEC schedule is preferred. I’d also like to see the sensible move of Missouri to the Western Division.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.