Scheduling presents wide range of challenges

Sports scheduling can get crazy. Certainly from school to school it differs.

Ole Miss is still packaging its 2008 football schedule together, while a number of other schools have either finished theirs beyond that, or at least portions of it.

When trying to upgrade schedules for the future, as Ole Miss is obviously attempting to do, it takes time and patience. It also means the schedule gets tougher.

With teams like Missouri, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Clemson already on tap for now or in the future, more BCS conference opponents are being lined up than ever.

Prior to last season's addition of Missouri and Wake Forest, the Rebels rarely played those level non-conference opponents in the regular season. Texas Tech in 2002 and 2003 was basically it the past two decades. Winning them has proven to be quite a challenge.

More of these games will be lined up in the future. I believe the Texas series will happen, although there's been no official confirmation; just a hunch on my part. I anticipate some interesting scheduling revelations down the road.

As for what some other schools are doing, it varies. The SEC school without an athletic department, Vanderbilt, has its football schedules basically filled through 2011 and has them listed in this year's media guide.

I read today that Notre Dame and Michigan have agreed to a 20-year contract extension of their series, which was set to expire in 2011, to run through 2031. And some thought the Ole Miss-Memphis 10-year deal was a bit out there.

Of course, that had to do with the opponent. I believe the Ole Miss-Memphis series in football is winding down. No official word on that either. Since Memphis opted out of men's hoops this year, I wonder if the games the following two seasons will even be played? And what about the future of Ole Miss-Memphis in other sports than those two?

At SEC Media Days, there was some talk, publicly and privately, about future scheduling. There's a mixed bag of opinions with a lot of variables. Some teams, like Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, have a huge BCS opponent built in annually – FSU for the Gators, Clemson for USC, and Tech for the Bulldogs. Kentucky normally has Indiana, but they aren't playing this year.

Steve Spurrier talked about two of his OOC foes this year – Clemson and North Carolina – as giving the Gamecocks quite a challenging non-league slate. But he said he liked it.

In the SEC West, those annual built-in non-conference foes don't exist. Auburn at times plays Georgia Tech. Arkansas tries to play Texas but not every season. This year the Hogs have a fairly no-name OOC slate – Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga, and Florida International.

And then there is a new twist on an old concept – the big game at a neutral site. Alabama and Florida State play Sept. 29 in Jacksonville for big bucks. Ole Miss almost did that years ago in Orlando for a Rebel "home" game with Florida. MSU did once in Tampa, "hosting" the Gators.

There's a trend for more of those, but they'd be non-conference games. Bama and the ‘Noles are setting that table for the future. Ole Miss has been and is testing those waters to see where it might lead – Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas? We'll see. With 12 games now, looking around at situations like that once a season makes more sense, especially if some big money can be made for the program.

There's always debate about non-conference scheduling. On one hand, OOC games could be scheduled to get four wins – see Arkansas above. Ole Miss has tried to do that some in the past when there were just three OOC games. Win those three, win three more and you're bowling.

But there's a push here to upgrade to bigger names, at least once and maybe twice a season. Winning them has been challenging, but it does bring more attention nationally and fans seem to point toward them more than some other OOC games.

Missouri and Georgia Tech just excite fans more than Louisiana-Monroe or Northwestern State. And there'll be some of both those type opponents from now on, it appears.

Of course winning excites folks more than anything. So the debate will continue.

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