‘New' SEC Football Schedule Beneficial

A primary topic of conversation in the college football world is the Southeastern Conference announcement of its continued league football schedule of teams playing a total of eight conference games per year (six division opponents, one traditional extradivision opponent, and one rotating opponent from the opposite division.

This is the formula that has been in place for many years. There is a new wrinkle, though. Beginning in 2016 every SEC team must play at least one game against a team from what are considered the other members of the Power Five conferences – Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, and ACC. .

Alabama Coach Nick Saban was at the forefront of urging a nine-game conference schedule, which was not accepted. Saban, however, did get his request that each team play a game against a power team – one from one of the Favored Five leagues or Notre Dame.

Last week, Saban said, "My thing is I'm for playing nine conference games and still playing another team in the major conferences, so you play 10 games because of fan interest, people coming to games looking forward to seeing more good games."

In case you thought no one in the conference was thinking about the fans.

The Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 play nine-game conference schedules.

The conference decision did preserve the permanent extradivision rivalries, which was really to the benefit of just four teams. Alabama vs. Tennessee, historically the two most successful SEC football programs, and Georgia vs. Auburn, the oldest Southern football rivalry, were saved.

Although Commissioner Mike Slive didn't mention it in his announcement of the plan for future schedules, there was undoubtedly some pressure on the schools to have the appearance of beefing up the schedule because of the new playoff system that will determine the national champion beginning this season. A committee that will choose four playoff teams does not have announced criteria, but a reasonable fear in the SEC – which has dominated the national championship in recent years – is that a 10-2 SEC team would be by-passed by an 11-1 team from another conference, even though the SEC team might have played a tougher conference schedule.

Though there are disappointments with the system, it probably is good financially and from a competitive standpoint for the SEC, which is dominant in college football.

One reason SEC teams would be against a nine-game conference schedule is that in alternate years it would decrease the number of possible home games. SEC teams have traditionally purchased three or four sure wins each year, games against teams from lower ranking conferences that were played in the SEC home stadium. An extra conference game cuts out that win and the big money that comes from playing a home game with a relatively small payment to the opposing team.

Can you say Troy, Samford, Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky, ad nauseum?

Three teams – Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina – were reportedly against the nine-game schedule because they felt they already had a tough schedule since out-of-conference rivals Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson made their schedules difficult enough. (Kentucky also plays an annual game against Louisville, which is going into the ACC.) Well, guess what? Everyone is going to have that tough extra game, so now what's the problem with nine SEC games?

Actually, most SEC teams do play a game against a power conference opponent each year. Alabama has done it primarily through the neutral site method – games against FSU, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Michigan. Arkansas has taken a respite from such games while rebuilding, but ordinarily does and has such games scheduled for the future. Texas A&M has some work to do on its schedule.

Another argument is in alternate years a team would have five road SEC games, and only four SEC home games. That would be balanced, of course, by having five SEC home games in the alternate years. And, by-the-by, each SEC team currently has only four SEC home games.

Florida-Georgia is tricky since the teams play their game in a neutral site each year. It has been considered a home team for one and a road game for the other, alternating each season, so that technically a nine-game schedule could provide more of an imbalance – good or bad.

Florida previously had lobbied to do away with permanent extradivision rivals because the Gators were having to play LSU every year. At the time, LSU said that was satisfactory, but following the SEC action this week, LSU Athletics Director Joe Alieva said "the leadership of our conference (the schedule was voted on by the school presidents) doesn't understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions.... Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage."

A competitive advantage – or at least a somewhat level playing field -- goes to the weaker teams. Ole Miss has Vanderbilt as a traditional rival, while Mississippi State goes across division lines to play Kentucky each year.

The other permanent cross division rivalries are Arkansas vs. Missouri and Texas A&M vs. South Carolina.

The real issue is probably that going to nine games would assure seven SEC teams getting one more conference loss each year. And that could mean the difference between making a bowl game and not making a bowl game, which is a dollars issue.

Dollars? And you thought it was the principle of the thing.

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