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How The Five Major Conferences Handle Football Scheduling

Since the SEC Meetings ended on Friday, we’ve been hit with a wave emailed questions — and some in our comment boxes, too — regarding the football schedule formats of the SEC and the other four major conferences.  Below is a simplified look at how everyone else handles their business:


ACC – 14 schools

* When the league expands to 14 with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, it will adopt a nine-game conference schedule.  At minimum, each school will play nine BCS-level foes per year with some schools (Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State) facing a guaranteed 10 BCS teams per season via in-state rivalries.

* There will be seven schools in each division.

Atlantic Division: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest

Coastal Division: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech

* Each school will play six division opponents, a “primary partner” or permanent cross-division rival, and two rotating cross-division foes per season.  This is the 6-1-2 format that we at suggested for the SEC last fall.

* Cross-division “primary partners” will be: Boston College-Virginia Tech, Clemson-Georgia Tech, Duke-Wake Forest, Maryland-Virginia, Miami-Florida State, NC State-North Carolina, and Pittsburgh-Syracuse.


Big Ten – 12 schools

* The Big Ten was going to go to a nine-game conference schedule until reaching an agreement with the Pac-12 that will lock-in a Big Ten/Pac-12 crossover game for every Big Ten foe each year.  This guarantees that each Big Ten school will face a minimum of nine BCS-level foes per season while a school like  Michigan, for example, will play a 10th BCS foe every year via a non-conference rivalry (with Notre Dame, in Michigan’s case).

* There are currently six teams in each division.

Legends Division: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern

Leaders Division: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

* Each school plays its five division opponents, one permanent cross-division rival, and two rotating cross-division foe per season.  This is a 5-1-2 format. (Corrected from an earlier post that said 6-1-1.  Obviously, it’s 5-1-2.  Mistype on the writer’s part.)

* Yearly cross-division rivals are: Illinois-Northwestern, Indiana-Michigan State, Iowa-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Nebraska-and Penn State.


Pac-12 – 12 schools

* Pac-12 schools play a nine-game conference schedule and — as mentioned above — they will also play non-conference games against Big Ten foes each year to bring their guaranteed number of BCS-level foes to 10 per school, per year.  Still, a school like Southern Cal, for example, will continue to play annual non-conference opponent Notre Dame, which means that 11 of the Trojans’ 12 games every season will come against BCS-level competition.

* There are six teams in each division.

North Division: California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State

South Division: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Southern Cal, UCLA, Utah

* Each school plays its five division opponents and four rotating cross-divisional foes per season.  This is a 5-4 plan.  There are no permanent crossover games in the Pac-12… which is a product of the simple nature of the league’s North/South split and its natural rivalries.  (There are guarantees that teams will play California schools each year — for recruiting purposes — but it’s too complicated to go into here.  If you want a look at the rotation through 2018, check here.)


Big 12 – 10 Schools

* The 10 Big 12 members play a nine-game, full round-robin slate each year.

* There are no divisions.

* That is all.


SEC – 14 Schools

* SEC schools will play an eight-game conference schedule each season, meaning — at minimum — SEC members will face eight BCS-level foes per season.  Some schools (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) will play a ninth guaranteed BCS-level foe thanks to annual in-state rivalries.

* There are seven teams in each division.

East Division: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

West Division: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss Texas A&M

* As agreed upon last Friday, each school will play its six divisional rivals annually, plus one permanent cross-division rival and one rotating cross-divisional foe.  This is known as the 6-1-1 plan.  Even though the rotation of cross-division foes will now be done yearly — guaranteeing that schools will meet at least once every six years — this plan still prevents cross-divisional rotating opponents from visiting one another more than once every 12 seasons.

* Permanent cross-divisional foes are: Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Missouri, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-LSU, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, and South Carolina-Texas A&M.


We at have previously suggested that the SEC and ACC create an agreement — mimicking the Big Ten/Pac-12 — that would pit each of the 14 schools from one league against one of 14 schools from the other.  From an SEC standpoint — four league schools are already playing yearly rivalries with ACC schools (Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, and Vanderbilt-Wake Forest in recent years) and this would prevent rival leagues, rival fans and media members from the North, East and West from attacking the SEC for being the only major conference not requiring its members to play at least nine BCS-level foes per year.

From an ACC perspective, a partnership with the SEC could bring in extra advertising revenue through an umbrella sponsorship and it might also help solidify the league as a major player moving forward, thus fending off possible school departures or even the total collapse of the conference.

We’ve tried to draw up examples of how such a year-in, year-out agreement might work in this post, but these are only examples of who could play in a given year and where.  Anyone judging the plan on who’s playing who and where they’re playing in our sample mock-up is completely missing the point.


Bubba Gump
Bubba Gump

I have been a fan of the ACC vs SEC in lieu of the 9th conference game from day 1!


If the B1G and PAC really want to argue how good they are, just do away with the CCG and play all 11 conference members during the regular season and play 1 OOC game to get to 12 regular season games. Everybody wins for these 2 conferences.


+ everybody plays everybody same way the B12 does now, so no need for a CCG to resolve the issue haphazardly

+ would give the B1G and PAC the #1 and #2 SoS numbers every year according to the computers because they play no real non AQ type schools

+ would give the conferences 11 weeks of conference programming, instead of the current 8 or 9, which adds 24 - 36 extra games for the BTN and PTN

+ Southern Cal / Stanford / Purdue / Michigan State / Michigan school could all keep Notre Dame as their OOC game

+ Makes the Rose Bowl the defacto elimination game for the MNC with having the true B1G winner play the true PAC winner each and every year

+ Gives the B1G real TV games the first 4 weekends of football instead of first 1/3 of the season devoted to MAC schools

+ Gives the PAC better schedule fillers over the lesser schools they must play now

+ Saves MILLIONS every year in "rent a win" school payouts

+ Increase stadium attendance with conference only games, and no empty seats for the "rent a win" games

+ Maximizes TV eyeballs and revenue to schools actually in the BTN and PTN footprints

+ Eliminates divisions and Legends / Leaders type confusion

+ No need for human polls or computer rankings because actual wins and losses determine final standings

+ With equal revenue sharing you pay your conference mates to be your patsies instead letting the money go out of conference




Just look at the "new" schedules by team and conference for this fall!


B1G - Leaders

Penn State keeps Temple, but drops - Ohio - Navy - UVA, and adds + Minnesota + Michigan State + Michigan

Ohio State keeps Cal, but drops - Miami (OH) - UCF - UAB, and adds + Minnesota + Northwestern + Iowa

Indiana keeps Navy, but drops - IN State - Umass - Ball State, and adds + Minnesota + Nebraska + Michigan

Purdue keeps Notre Dame, but drops - EKU - E Michigan - Marshall, and adds + Northwestern + Michigan State + Nebraska

Illinois keeps Arizona State, but drops - W Michigan - Charleston - La Tech, and adds + Iowa + Michigan State + Nebraska

Wisconsin keeps Oregon State, but drops - N Iowa - Utah State - UTEP, and adds + Northwestern + Iowa + Michigan


B1G - Legends

Michigan keeps Notre Dame, but drops - Alabama - Air Force - Umass, and adds + Indiana + Wisconsin + Penn State

Michigan State keeps Notre Dame, but drops - Boise State - C Michigan - E Michigan, and adds + Illinois + Purdue + Penn State

Northwestern keeps Vanderbilt, but drops - Syracuse - Boston College - South Dakota, and adds + Purdue + Wisconsin + Ohio State

Iowa keeps Iowa State, but drops - N Illinois - N iowa - C Michigan, and adds + Illinois + Wisconsin + Ohio State

Minnesota keeps Syracuse, but drops - NH - W Michigan - UNLV, and adds + Indiana + Penn State + Ohio State

Nebraska keeps UCLA, but drops - Southern Miss - Arkansas State - Idaho State, and adds + Indiana + Illinois + Purdue


With only 3 OOC slots in the PAC, it is even easier to just swap 2 OOC for 2 conference games - BYU becomes the Notre Dame of the PAC


PAC - North

Washington keeps LSU, but drops - San Diego State - Portland State, and adds + UCLA + Arizona State

Washington State keeps BYU, but drops - E Washington - UNLV, and adds + USC + Arizona

Oregon State keeps BYU, but drops - Wisconsin - Nicholls State, and adds + USC + Colorado

Oregon keeps Top 20 opponent, but drops - Arkansas State - Fresno State - Tn Tech, and adds + UCLA + Utah

California keeps Ohio State, but drops - Nevada - Southern Utah, and adds + Arizona + Colorado

Stanford keeps Notre Dame, but drops - Duke - San Jose State, and adds + Arizona State + Utah


PAC - South

Colorado keeps Colorado State, but drops - Sacramento State - Fresno State, and adds + Oregon State + California

Utah keeps BYU, but drops - N Colorado - Utah State, and adds + Oregon + Stanford

Arizona State keeps Illinois, but drops - N Arizona - Missouri, and adds + Washington + Stanford

Arizona keeps Oklahoma State, but drops - Toledo - SC State, and adds + Washington State + California

USC keeps Notre Dame, but drops - Hawaii - Syracuse, and adds + Washington State + Oregon State

UCLA keeps Nebraska, but drops - Rice - Houston, and adds + Washington + Oregon


Given that the SEC is likely to take two ACC schools in the future, why would you want to solidify them as a major player moving forward. Further, the networks only have so much space for inventory and can only pay out so much money to fill that limited space. The goal of any conference should be to get the biggest slice of that pie. Propping up an ACC that is lined up for demise and decline to a true mid-major only serves to get less of that money/exposure to SEC schools. It makes more sense for the four major conferences of the future to collaborate on developing the best combined product possible. That means consolidating talent (expansion) so all four have a strong product, and cross-scheduling each other rather than the outsiders. If SEC really wants to sign a scheduling alliance with ACC, they're welcome to do that, but 4-5 of those teams are going to end up in Big 12 within the next couple years, including all but one of the existing rivalries mentioned. If you sign that deal, once those teams move you'll be playing the expansion teams they add from BE & CUSA or trying to get out of the agreement early. And, the conference as a whole will not be on a BCS level - not practically or technically. So yeah, that's an absolutely terrible idea.


Actually the PAC-12 has a special arrangement so that all 4 california schools play each other every season, and the other 4 teams per division are guarenteed one game per year against the california school from the other divison. This was brough about since the best recruiting area in the PAC-12 geography is Los Angeles, so the teams that were not in the South division still wanted access to L.A. via a guarenteed road game to L.A. at least once every 2 years.



I thought the Big-10 and it's 12 teams played a 5-1-2 format?


This is a brilliant idea.  If losing a 1/2 homegame a year is made up through additional TV revenue I think this could happen.  The SEC new buddy the Big 12 already is playing 9 BCS level games so they will not be upset with us partnering with the ACC, and even though the ACC plays 9 BCS level games they are weak opponets and may like the opportuity to play th SEC to gain respect.  I wonder if this would make the ACC our ally and they would be more inline with a 4 best team strategy for a championship as opposed to conference champions when the rubber hits the road.  I think this is a win win, but clearly this would be a strong lifeline for the ACC.  

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



In case you missed the many troubles and "digestion issues" the SEC dealt with last week in Destin, I can assure you that SEC presidents would prefer the ACC remain stable for the time being.  I've been told repeatedly that the league's members want to see how the current additions play out -- they don't even know how much money Missouri and Texas A&M are worth at this point -- before rushing out to expand again.


If the ACC collapses, then certainly, the SEC would look in that direction.  But you're assuming that the league WANTS the ACC to fail.  I've heard nothing from inside any SEC school administration that suggests that's true in the least.  Adding ACC teams is a fallback option... unless all the schools are running a really good off-the-record misinformation campaign.


Also, please remember that the SEC has all but admitted that it will be creating its own network in the years ahead.  That network will need inventory.  And you can bet ESPN and cable subscribers would be happier with SEC-ACC matchups than Mississippi State-Jacksonville State or Tennessee-Georgia State matchups.


Thanks for reading the site,



 @jmindel I was going to respond with this too. You (MrSec) could just mention that the California schools continue to play each other every year without typing out the exact frequency of other non-divisional matchups (4/8 for California schools and 6/8 for non-California schools)

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



If this were, we'd have gone into more depth to try and explain the Pac-12's quirky rotation, but as you'll notice in the first paragraph above, this is "a simplified look" at scheduling.


For those actually wanting to see the rotation as put forth by the Pac-12, check here:


It's complicated.  And the end result is still nine league games consisting of five division games, four games from the other division, and a BCS-level game with a Big Ten school.


Thanks for reading the site,


John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Obviously it IS a 5-1-2.  A mistype on my part.  Good catch.  I happened to be typing the Big Ten portion while talking to someone on the phone and didn't proofread it.  Probably not the best of ideas.


That's been corrected above.  The others have been double-checked via their conference websites or member institution websites when necessary. 


Many thanks,




Personally, I think each SEC team should be required to have 1 BCS out of conference permanent opponent, but they should be free to chose them.  The Western Division teams have no connection with the ACC, so Big XII teams would be much more appropriate.  Why can't there be an agreement where each team plays against the ACC or Big XII.  It might even force Texas and Kansas to do what is right against their natural rivals.   Think KU-Mizzou, Texas-Ark (or ATM if Texas quits throwing a fit) OU-LSU, MSU-Tex. Tech, Ole Miss-OK State.  These would be more interesting than an Ole Miss-NC State or UK -Duke match up.  


 @John at MrSEC Well, yes and no.


Everyone says they don't want to expand. That's all for the lawyers, and almost always is a really well coordinated misinformation campaign - at very least the tongue-in-cheek variety. You have to take those statements (official or not) with a grain of salt. That said, I don't think SEC wants to expand before next year or the year after, and I think they'd like ACC to hold together till they're ready. When expansion does happen, and it is inevitable, ACC will be falling apart due to the loss of 3-4 teams to B12. B1G & SEC both can swoop in to save the programs they want without taking any of the blame for the conf's demise. That's supremely good positioning. The only questions really are which two ACC teams and when. Certainly once the music starts the SEC will need to reach in and grab the programs they need rather than let the other two take the cream of the crop and leave SEC to pick over the scraps.


Here's the thing on super conferences - this is mergers and acquisitions 101... the ACC is making 17m x 14 schools. The value isn't just what those schools individually are worth. By them leaving & ACC restocking with BE/CUSA/MWC talent, the value of ACC's contract is going to plummet. If in two years they're making 8m per school, that's 126m/yr that can be redistributed to the conferences that are more in demand. If they merge with the remnants of BE (after BE's new additions leave with the loss of AQ) then that's a whole lot more money going back to the power confs. It is in the long-term interests of the power confs to eliminate - not so much competition as secondary confs that drain to many resources away from those that consistently earn it on the field.  SEC knows that as well as anyone, and that's why they not only will go to 16 (when they're ready), but also will not step in to help ACC stave off future demise.


SEC didn't take Missoui & A&M because they needed two more teams or those were better options than FSU & Clemson. They took them to expand the footprint by 20m people in preparation for the SEC network. The same logic applies to further expansion. The VA/DC and NC markets put another 17m people in the fold. That's a lot of TV sets to drive network revenue, make for easier conf scheduling, and increase inventory. 


I absolutely agree the quality of OOC matchups is worth a pretty penny. I'm fairly sure Michigan, Ohio State, USC(w), Oregon, Texas, and Oklahoma are all worth a hell of a lot more than Virginia, BC, Duke, etc. With FSU/Clemson gone, GT & VT eying the door, most others hoping for a dance partner... even if it's just potential for that to happen, contracting with ACC is a terrible idea. Once those teams are gone they'll be replaced by BE & CUSA teams. At that point you're in the same boat you are now with bad quality matchups, but you're locked into an extended contract of it. That's a bad business risk.


A four-way scheduling alliance between SEC, B12, PAC, & B1G is where we're ultimately going. That's not only exciting, it gives you HUGE tv value and ensures no up-start mid-major team can ever block us out of a title shot. B1G and PAC are talking the same sort of deal right now. What will SOS look like in the SEC when you're playing ACC teams and Oregon has to go through Michigan on top of their conf schedule? The natural matchup, particularly with the ongoing-new eastern division expansion, is B12-SEC. I understand if you don't want to go there until some more of this expansion shakes out. That's fine. Let's look at this again a year from now.



 I agree with you that it would be alot more interesting.  They are free to chose to play those games now, but both sides chose not to pursue those games.  Playing a BCS level team can be misleading, just because one is a BCS level team does not mean they are any good.  The strength of schedule is still the most difficult in the SEC at this time so many are concerned about increasing the strength of schedule.  Florida, Georgia and South Carolina already play some of the toughest ACC teams so if that alliance occurs the SEC will get to play BCS teams and will only see very few additional losses.  The Big 12 and the SEC are clearly the two best conferences and in theory they could beat each other up and lose an opportunity to play in the playoff series even though they would be much better than a Ohio State or Michigan.  I also like the idea about alliances in todays college football business reality.  The SEC has an alliance with the BIG XII and could have an alliance with the ACC and that would be a strong business position.  


College football is unfortunately a business before a collegiate sport environment; however, it does provide needed funding for the other sports.  


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