SEC is too tough a conference to rush into a 9-game schedule. It is easy to justify going to a 9-game schedule when your conference is weak. The PAC-12 and Big 10 are not the conferences they used to be nor were they ever what they claimed to be. Again, in the SEC, the 8-games played in the league may very well be the toughest games played all year. I say stay at 8 as long as possible. Who cares if every team doesn't play each other.
Early next month in Destin, Florida, Mike Slive and the presidents of the 14 SEC schools are expected to debate, discuss and ultimately approve of a new scheduling format for football. To date, coaches and ADs have been firm in their stance that the status quo must not be changed. Slive and the league’s transition-czar — former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton — have repeatedly told the press that there’s been no traction toward switching to a nine-game conference slate.
Those who read this site regularly know that we believe that to be a mistake.
A simple businessman looks at his current situation and says, “All’s well, why change?” A smart businessman looks at his current situation and says, “How is that situation going to change in the future and how must I change to insure future success?”
The SEC’s ADs — driven by the desire for more home games and an easier shot at bowl eligibility thanks to more cupcake opponents — believe that the eight-game schedule that has served the league so well the past 20 years will be just fine and dandy moving forward.
It won’t be.
Yesterday, amid Florida State rumors and realignment talk, ACC commissioner John Swofford made it official that his league would go to a nine-game conference slate when Pittsburgh and Syracuse are allowed to leave the Big East and join the ACC. That puts the ACC right in line with every other major conference expect one. Guess which one.
The Big Ten will be sticking with its current eight-game schedule, but a new round-robin agreement with the Pac-12 will guarantee that all Big Ten schools face nine or more BCS-level opponents per season. In addition to the new yearly Big Ten games, Pac-12 teams will continue to play a nine-game in-league schedule… meaning Pac-12 schools will joust with a minimum of 10 BCS-level foes per year. The Big 12 — a 10-team league for the time being — intends to maintain its nine-game, “everybody plays everybody,” round-robin conference schedule.
If you’re keeping score at home, that means of the five major conferences, four will require their schools to play a minimum of nine BCS-level foes per year. Only the Southeastern Conference will stand pat at eight.
But it’s worked so far, right?
Yes, but a smart businessman like the one mentioned above should see that the landscape is rapidly changing. Other leagues — whether SEC fans, coaches and ADs believe them to be inferior or not — are going to be playing more top-level games. There’s a new playoff coming and there’s a push to get as many conference champions into that mix as possible (with as few wild card teams as possible). Strength of schedule will matter as much or more than ever. And in a sporting nation that’s quickly grown tired/sick/jealous of the SEC, you can bet strength of schedule in the SEC will become a key attack point for rival leagues, many poll voters, and perhaps a few computer programmers, too.
We’ve been writing that that for months now. Last week, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany became the first person to take a swing at conferences that play fewer big-time opponents:
“The polls don’t always measure strength of schedule. Some conferences are playing nine games, some are playing eight. The Pac-12 is playing nine and then go out and play a round-robin game against us, that’s 10 and some of them are going to play Notre Dame — that’s 11 difficult games. If they’re ranked fifth in the country and they won a conference championship, I think that’s quite an accomplishment. Some teams don’t even win their own division. They started off highly in the rankings, lose early, don’t play a championship game and they might end up at four.”
Wonder which league he had in mind.
For the SEC, the clock is ticking. The league can do as it did in the early ’90s and overrule the fearmongers from within who claimed at the time that an eight-game league schedule and the addition of a first-of-its-kind championship game would end the SEC’s chances of ever winning another national title. (Note: Alabama won the national crown in Year One of the tougher schedule, championship game era.) Or the SEC can stand still as the world rushes past.
The SEC has benefited at the polls and in the computer rankings because the perception has been that the league is tougher than every other conference. (We at MrSEC.com believe that that perception has been a reality because of BCS title game success and the number of pro prospects NFL teams draft from Slive’s league every April.) But the new perception is about to become that SEC schools actually play weaker schedules. Like it, don’t like it, that’s what going to be said east, north and west of the SEC region.
Slive and his presidents can force a nine-game league schedule down their ADs and coaches’ throats for the long-term success of the conference in Destin. We don’t believe they will, but they could. And they should.
Getting tougher in 1992 made the college football world take note and has served as a launching pad for two decades of unrivaled success. Now the SEC simply needs to keep up with the other four major conferences, not surpass them, to maintain their strength of schedule “wow” factor with the media. Th same media who drive the perception of SEC greatness.
Will it keep up with the Joneses?
To quote a line that’s been credited to dozens of past military leaders: “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace.” Roughly translated: Always be audacious.
In this case, simply the avoidance of timidity will do.
Rival leagues and the media will be watching. And the SEC’s reputation is at stake.