Nine-game SEC schedule?

The 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference recently rejected a proposal to play nine league games per year in football, instead of eight. That raises the question: What would happen if the 12-team SEC adopted a nine-game conference schedule?

Naturally, the mere suggestion would cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Phillip Fulmer and their fellow coaches. You can almost hear them screaming in unison: "The league will never win another national title."

That's why a quick history lesson might be useful at this point:

SEC coaches did a lot of grumbling in 1992, when the league incorporated South Carolina and Arkansas, split for divisional play, added an eighth game to the regular-season schedule AND a title game pitting the East and West champs. The prospect of playing nine league games in order to win the SEC title prompted several coaches to complain that the conference might never win another national championship under this setup.

That complaint proved ludicrous when Alabama won the national title that very fall. Then, for good measure, Florida won it in '96, Tennessee in '98 and LSU in 2003. Oh, yeah ... Florida and LSU went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Clearly, going from seven league games per year to eight didn't eliminate the SEC as a major player on the big stage. If anything, the conference is a bigger force in the national title picture now than before.


The SEC has won six national titles in the 16 years since it switched to eight regular-season games and a championship game. In the four years previous to that (1988-91), playing seven conference games per season, the league won zero national championships. In the 16 years prior to that (1972-87), playing six league games per season, the SEC captured just three national titles.

Naturally, Vol fans are wondering: Who would be added to Tennessee's schedule if the SEC adopted a nine-game conference slate?

My guess would be Auburn. The Vols and Tigers used to have a terrific rivalry – playing 36 years in a row between 1956 and 1991. Some of those meetings were true classics. Unfortunately, the series was a casualty of the switch to divisional play in '92. As a result, Tennessee and Auburn have met just four times in the past 16 years.

Adding Auburn would give Tennessee seven annual SEC opponents – East rivals Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, plus crossover foes Alabama and Auburn from the West. The Vols could face the other four West teams on a rotating basis – LSU and Ole Miss home-and-home over a two-year period, then Arkansas and Mississippi State home-and-home over the next two-year period.

This schedule would mean every team in the SEC would play everyone else at least twice in a four-year period.

Would adding a ninth league game reduce the SEC's chances of producing an undefeated team? Probably. But it also would reduce the number of unattractive non-conference matchups that even Las Vegas bookmakers won't touch.

Remember these turkeys from 2007?

Alabama vs. Western Carolina

Arkansas vs. North Texas and UT-Chattanooga

Auburn vs. New Mexico State

Florida vs. Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic

Georgia vs. Western Carolina

Kentucky vs. Kent State and Florida Atlantic

LSU vs. Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech

Ole Miss vs. Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State

Mississippi State vs. Gardner-Webb

South Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina State

Tennessee vs. Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette

Vanderbilt vs. Eastern Michigan and Miami of Ohio

Moreover, you don't have to go undefeated to win the national championship these days. Of the six SEC teams to win national titles since the league expanded, only two – the '92 Crimson Tide and the '98 Vols – posted unblemished records. LSU won it all last year with TWO losses.

There is no doubt that a nine-game SEC schedule would meet with a lot of initial opposition. But the eight-game SEC schedule met with a lot of initial opposition back in 1992, and that turned out pretty well.

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