SEC's 8-game Slate Adds SOS

The SEC announced Sunday that it was sticking with its eight-game league slate while also announcing that each school must add a marquee non-conference game - which Arkansas already has in place with contests scheduled against TCU in 2016 and 2017, Michigan in 2018 and 2019 and Texas in 2021.

The SEC announced Saturday that it will keep the same eight-game league schedule it has been playing, but will be adding a strength-of-schedule component to the equation.

Each of the 14 league schools must play either an ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, Big 12 school or Notre Dame as one of its non-conference game beginning in 2016.

The eight-game slate will continue to include six division opponents, one cross-division permanent opponent (Arkansas' will be Missouri) and one rotating cross-division foe.

"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," Slive added. "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."

Arkansas, which plays at Texas Tech in 2014 and host the Red Raiders in 2015, is already set up through 2019 because of its advanced scheduling.

The Razorbacks are have already set up home and away series with TCU (2016 and 2017) and Michigan (2018 and 2019).

The Razorbacks also have a contract in place to host Texas in Fayetteville on Sept. 11, 2021 – 10 years after the game was originally scheduled to happen.

"There are a lot of interesting possibilities out there - some things that I know will excite our fan base in more than one way," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said during an interview last year on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.

"The best thing is to try to take care of what services Arkansas best," Bielema said. "You take into account fan base, history and some things that would give flavor to your schedule you can't find in the SEC."

The Arkansas-Michigan series already had its dates with a season-opening date in Ann Arbor on Sept. 1, 2018 and one in Fayetteville on Aug, 31, 2019.

The Razorbacks and Wolverines have played just once as Tom Brady led Michigan over Arkansas 45-31 in the 1999 Citrus Bowl.

"The home and home series will feature match-ups between two tradition rich programs representing two outstanding conferences," Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long said when the series was announced in 2012. "As a program, we will continue to look for opportunities to schedule high-profile non-conference opponents to further enhance our national profile and complement our competitive Southeastern Conference schedule."

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

• 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 inter-sectional opponents

"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," Slive said. "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."

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The SEC's permanent cross-division foes:

• Arkansas vs. Missouri

• Alabama vs. Tennessee

• Auburn vs. Georgia

• LSU vs. Florida

• Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt

• Mississippi State vs. Kentucky

• Texas A&M vs. South Carolina

Alex Collins

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