By now, if you read this site at all, you know that we said last year the inclusion of Missouri and Texas into the SEC would eventually drive the league to go to a nine-game conference football schedule. You also know that with a new playoff that will be selected by a committee — based in part on strength of schedule — that we’ve said time and again that the league was giving aid to its enemies by sticking with an eight-game plan in the near future.
Now it sounds like the SEC will be forced to re-think that eight-game plan for the very reasons we stated.
In a piece posted late Friday by The Jackson Clarion-Ledger (and linked to on Saturday by MrSEC.com), there’s a brief standout comment from former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton, who is the head of the SEC’s transition team. Of a nine-game schedule he said:
“I think it’s something that will be looked at because of the new playoff, but right now we’re staying with the eight. There’s time to explore and do some stuff.”
This time five months ago the league said there was no way it would go to nine-games. Then some schools like Alabama and Tennessee (and Tide coach Nick Saban) made it clear at the SEC Meetings in Destin that they would be fine with a move to nine games. Their counterparts at some of the traditionally weaker football programs stood their ground, stating that they needed four cupcake nonconference games for the sake of bowl eligibility.
But while the league did go with an eight-game plan, a nine-game plan got more talk than many expected. The new playoff — which we knew was coming at the time — seems to be giving a little bit more gas to the nine-game engine. Good. The league should have just gone with nine in the first place:
One, it would mean that league teams would see each other more often. (What person doesn’t want to visit an opposing campus — or have an opponent visit his campus — more often?)
Two, it would mean ticket-buying fans would get more value for the dollar. (Would you rather see Auburn or Akron in your town? South Carolina or South Dakota State?)
Three, it would please the SEC’s television partners who want better games to televise. (Adding two more schools to the SEC already creates more inventory. The league played 48 conference games a year ago. With Missouri and Texas A&M, there will now be 56 SEC contests this fall. Add a ninth game to the schedule and the number of SEC versus SEC games would jump to 63… which would be about a 30% increase over the number of league games played per year in the old 12-team league.)
Four, it would prevent all those folks in regions not called “the South” from pointing out that the SEC is the only major conference that does not require its members to play at least nine foes from other major leagues. (While that might not matter to you, it could matter in the selection committee meeting room… especially since “spreading the wealth” of football titles was a big part of the drive to the playoff.)
Five, if/when the league starts an SEC Network, it will be easier to get that game picked up by cable systems if there are actually good games on it. (Fans would be quicker to demand a channel showing Georgia-Ole Miss than Georgia-Georgia Southern.)
There is another way around the nine-game hurdle. Templeton mentions the possibility to “do some stuff.” That might mean creating a year-in, year-out series between SEC teams and those of another conference, like the ACC as we mentioned back in May. Both leagues have 14 teams, a common mega-sponsor in AT&T for branding the games, and there are currently four yearly pairings between the leagues anyway (Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Vanderbilt-Wake Forest). The Pac-12 and Big Ten have already entered into just such a scheduling agreement.
The fact, however, is that there were many reasons for the Southeastern Conference to go ahead and move to a nine-game league slate while in Destin. It’s going to be forced upon Mike Slive’s group eventually by the pressures of television and playoff spots.
At least now the head of the SEC’s transition team seems to see the writing on the wall. That’s why we’ll stick to our initial prediction — made in late-2011 — that the SEC will be playing nine league games by 2017. If not, then expect the league to have agreed instead to a yearly series of games with teams from another conference. Pick your poison, one or the other is coming.