SEC Keeps 8 Football Games Schedule

Alabama Coach Nick Saban did not get his wish that the Southeastern Conference increase the number of league games, but the SEC did agree with his suggestion that SEC teams include at least one opponent from a so-called power conference among its non-conference opponents.

It has been Alabama Coach Nick Saban's contention that since the conference had expanded that it should have increased the number of conference games played. The Crimson Tide coach had said that he thought it important that a conference actually have teams in the conference playing one another as often as possible.

The league voted against increasing the number of conference games from eight to nine.

Saban had also suggested that the non-conference schedule include at least one game that was not an obvious cupcake. That made it through the vote of presidents/chancellors of SEC schools and was announced Monday.

The bottom line is that the eight-game format, including keeping traditional opponents from the opposite dividison, will continue. Alabama will continue to play Tennessee from the East, Auburn will continue to play Georgia, etc.

Teams will play games against their six division rivals, one traditional opponent from the other side, and one annually rotating opponent extradivisionally.

While this is a continuation of the exiting format, the SEC has added a strength-of-schedule component that requires all schools to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis beginning in 2016.

"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," said Commissioner Mike Slive. "Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.

"The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume' of opponents each and every year."

The announcement is the culmination of a process that began in the spring of 2013 when the SEC presidents and chancellors committed to a review of football scheduling to be completed in time for the preparation of the 2016 football schedule with the objective of establishing a format in the best long term interests of the conference. Approval of the format came at a special joint meeting of the presidents and chancellors of each SEC institution and each conference athletic director held Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.

"The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games," Slive said. "In fact, just last year, five of our schools comprised the top five toughest schedules in the nation according to the NCAA and nine ranked in the top 20.

"A number of our schools play annual ACC opponents, and recent history shows our schools are already playing a significant number of strong non-conference opponents across the country on a home and home basis or in neutral site games.

From 2006 through games scheduled in 2015, SEC teams will have played 132 games against schools from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. More than half of the SEC schools have played two or more teams from those conferences in a single season at least once during that period and several schools have done it in multiple seasons.

Alabama has a recent "tradition" of playing a power opponent in neutral site games, ordinarily to start the season. This year Bama will open the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30.

The conference said the decision to maintain an eight-game conference schedule allows for a number of other advantages, which it said include:

• A balanced league schedule for all teams – equal home and away conference games (four home and four away); a nine-game schedule would have resulted in some teams with five home games and others with four on an annual basis

• Accommodates varying institutional non-conference scheduling philosophies

• Allows for marquee neutral site games – the popularity of neutral site games has grown in recent years, as evidenced by large crowds and significant TV ratings for those games that feature major intersectional opponents

As for maintaining the traditional opponents – of which only two games have any real importance (Alabama vs. Tennessee as the two most successful SEC teams and Georgia vs. Auburn as the South's oldest continuous rivalry) – Slive said, "Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries. It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions."

The decision to maintain a permanent non-division opponent also presents other advantages, the conference said:

• Creates annual cross-division rivalries that otherwise would not be annual games

• Provides each team with a traditional opponent for the final weekend of the season.

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