Well. We thought this would happen.
When we at MrSEC.com first began pushing for a nine-game conference slate in the SEC several months ago, we listed a few major reasons why it would be in the league’s best interest to adopt such a format:
1. Better games would equal more revenue from television partners
2. More traditional rivalries could be saved
3. The league’s teams would see each other more often
4. Sticking with an eight-game schedule would hurt the SEC’s “strength of schedule” credibility
Now a lot of SEC fans didn’t want to hear Point #4. In their view, the SEC is the toughest league in America and a three-game SEC slate would be tougher than 12-game Big Ten slate. Trouble is… SEC fans won’t be picking and choosing who plays in a new college football playoff (if a new playoff comes to pass). That means knocks on the SEC’s scheduling practices might impact the conference’s chances of getting multiple teams in the field.
During the Big Ten’s spring meetings two weeks ago, commissioner Jim Delany became the first person to take a little shot at the SEC by suggesting that some conferences play tougher schedules than others:
“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 to 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.”
The Big Ten and all other major conferences will require their football teams to play a minimum of nine BCS-level foes per season. Thus the eight-game dig at the SEC.
Yesterday, Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News became the second person to point out that the SEC leaves more room for cupcakes than do other conferences:
“Pac-12 officials have to be thinking that the playoff model — especially one with the best four teams qualifying (the SEC plan) — further tilts the national championship scales to the southeast, and away from the west coast.
How reasonable a path to the playoff would USC have when it’s playing nine league games and Notre Dame and a quality B1G opponent as part of the scheduling partnership?
Meanwhile, the best SEC teams are playing eight league games and three non-conference cupcakes, if not four?
(Michigan, which also plays Notre Dame annually, would be in the same predicament as USC relative to their counterparts in the SEC. The Wolverines, coincidentally or not, are opposed to the playoff.)”
Whether you agree with Wilner’s view or not is moot. The point is that the SEC has chosen to hand ammunition to its enemies.
Unless the SEC’s presidents surprise everyone with a last-minute switch to a nine-game schedule today in Destin, SEC fans had best get used to hearing the “they only play eight conference games” argument tossed in their faces. Often. And at some point — perhaps right off the bat — that kind of talk might just begin to resonate with the people who do pick the teams for college football’s new playoff (if a new playoff comes to pass).