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SEC Schedule Debate: What Does “Strength Of Schedule” Mean?

8 or 9Depending on who you talk to around the Southeastern Conference, the league is still seriously considering a possible move to a nine-game conference slate.  The 2013 schedule held fast at eight games.  A short four-year rotation (2014 through 2017) that will be presented at the spring meetings in Destin is also built on an eight-game model.  Additionally, the majority of SEC schools seem to want to stand pat at eight, especially those with built-in rivals from other conferences (Kentucky/Louisville, Florida/Florida State, South Carolina/Clemson, Georgia/Georgia Tech).

On the other hand, there are a few who want to see a nine-game schedule come to fruition.  Nick Saban of Alabama is one.  He believes schools in the same league should visit one another more than once every 13 years or so.  Go figure.

Then there are those who understand that the sales team who’ll be peddling the soon-to-be-officially-announced SEC Network will have an easier path to success if the conference has better television inventory.  Having seven extra SEC games to sell each year would certainly beat the SEC/Austin Peay and SEC/Elon matchups we get so many times per season as part of the current model.

Another factor is the new playoff selection process — an issue that will be tackled this week by the powers-that-be in college football.  We know that a playoff has been created in part because the Southeastern Conference has owned the BCS Championship Game for the better part of a decade now.  So with a selection panel consisting of folks from across the nation, it’s not difficult to imagine a day when voters from other regions attempt to spread the wealth to more conferences by refusing to invite a second SEC team — no matter how deserving — into their new four-team playoff.  Especially if all the other major conferences are playing nine-game conference slates and the SEC isn’t.  And if there isn’t going to be one, overriding RPI-type of ranking used by the selection committee… and for now that is the thinking.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity told The Macon Telegraph and The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer this week that the SEC’s scheduling plans will indeed be impacted by just what the heck “strength of schedule” will mean in future days:


“We continue to be educated on what the definition of strength of schedule means.  What are other conferences doing in that regard.  So there’s a lot of things to really discuss if we do go to a nine-game model.  But we have not talked about that other than just in theory, to see what some models of that would look like.”


The Big Ten, Big XII and Pac-12 are all either currently playing or planning to play nine league games per season.  The ACC had initially announced plans to go to a nine-game schedule, but reversed field and announced an eight-game plan when Notre Dame agreed to join the league as part-time football participant.



I think 8 conference games is about perfect. Part of the fun from a fan's perspective is playing new/random teams every year, and if there are only 2-3 non-conference games that's going to be seriously reduced. I really doubt teams will stop scheduling at least 1 FCS cupcake a year (if not FCS, then a team from the very dregs of the FBS), and most schools will also play a second relatively easy game against a team from the Sun Belt/MAC/Conference USA. For everyone but the Alabamas and LSUs of the world, that makes since. If you're searching for 6 or 8 wins it simply doesn't make sense to have 10 or 11 tough teams on the schedule. If you think you're going to qualify for the 4 team playoff and you're worried about SOS, then schedule 4 tough teams out of conference. Play Notre Dame or Louisville or Texas instead of whatever Sun Belt team you have on the schedule now. And let everyone else who just wants to get to bowl game schedule how they need to.

Also, if you expand the schedule to 9 games, you're at most going to get 1 non-conference game against a major opponent, if even that. So the Georgias, Floridas and South Carolinas of the world will be playing their rival and two cupcakes most every year. Same for Mizzou whenever Kansas decides to play us again. Which means there's no chance to play a random/fun game against a team from the Pac-12, ACC or the Big 12 if teams want to, and I'm not sure that's what anyone wants.


I'd even be ok with 10 conference games.  I understand that certain teams want to play schools from other parts of the country or perennial OOC rivals, but why not do both?  Instead of scheduling all these cupcakes, just play 12 quality games every year. 

10 conference games, 1 OOC rival(for those who have them), and 1 or 2 quality BCS schools to round it out.


Eight SEC games is enough. There are teams in the conference that have to play 4-5 perennial top 10 teams a year, and that's tough enough. It's tougher than anything any other conference champion has to deal with. If the league is looking for marquee OOC games, it's really simple. Have the SECE teams schedule ACC opponents and the SECW scheduled Big12 opponents. GA-GaTech, UF-FSU, SC-Clemson, UT-NC/VT, UK-Louisville, Missouri-Kansas (exception), Vandy-Wake Forest ... TAMU-Texas, Arkansas-Oklahoma, Alabama-WVU, Auburn-KSU, MSU-KSU, UM-TCU/TT, LSU-OSU


I tend to agree with MrSEC's arguments on how a 9-game schedule is likely inevitable, but unless/until that happens would the SEC consider doing away with the divisional format for scheduling?  Awhile back someone threw out a scheduling idea (I'd cite the source, but for the life of me I can't remember where I read it) of (1) doing away with divisions; (2) assigning each school 3 permanent rivals which would be played every year; and (3) the remaining 10 schools would be played over 4-year periods -- i.e., 5 played home/away in years 1 & 2, the next 5 played home/away in years 3 & 4, then start over.  This would allow each school to visit all conference foes over the course of 4 years and should (I think) allow preservation of all the existing rivalries that need to be kept (as well as create new ones).

The conference title game would then consist of the 1 & 2 teams in the SEC standings.  Granted, a waiver would be needed from the NCAA since the NCAA requires the divisions for a conference title game.  But wouldn't the NCAA be hard-pressed to deny such a waiver since, in this format, the best 2 teams would be playing in the title game?


The ACC said they would remain at 8 games a season after Notre Dame agreed to schedule 5 schools a year.  The schools that play Notre Dame in any given year will have 9 games scheduled by the conference anyway.



 "and I'm not sure that's what anyone wants."

 Do you really want to see your team play cupcakes every year, especially 2 or 3 of them?  I understand the desire to get to a bowl game, but what is the fun of a bowl game if it's not one of the big ones?  You get to see your team play a mediocre opponent from another conference in a destination that most people won't even travel to in order to see the game.  And most of the destinations for the lower tier of bowls aren't anything special either.  Wouldn't it be more fun to play that same team from another conference during the regular season in your own home stadium or as a road game to a another school's campus that's probably at least as interesting as a bowl site?  And maybe play 2 or 3 of them in one year depending on how many conference games there are?  Bama has had its days where small time bowls were the only option at the end of the year and I would take extra quality games in a heartbeat over bowl games in Shreveport any day.

Not to mention how many more quality games there would be on Sat for the casual fan to watch.  Also, the opportunity to see more conference-mates more often.  As it stands with 8, we'll see each other once every 6 years at best.  I just don't see the downside of more SEC games and more quality games on top of that.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator


You are correct.  We wrote of that flip-flop back in October but it slipped through the ever-widening cracks in my brain this morning.

Good catch.  Post updated.

Thanks for reading the site,



@AllTideUp @mutigersbball  

I certainly don't mind my team playing a couple of cupcakes. We are guaranteed 4 quality home games in the SEC as it is, and every year we play a major conference team, along with one solid mid-major. At least one of those two games will be at home, so there's usually a minimum of 5 really good home games. That's enough to keep most fans interested. So here is how Mizzou schedules FCS cupcake, one FBS cupcake, one major conference school, and one difficult mid-major (usually one of the top teams from the Mountain West or MAC.) That seems about right for me, and when you combine that with a very tough conference schedule, a 7 or 8 win season feels pretty legitimate. 

I'll use basketball as an example....Just about everyone has about half of their non-conference games against total cupcakes that there's no way they'll lose to. Another quarter will be against tough mid-majors. The final quarter will be against premier opponents. That seems about right to me. What I'm saying, is if you have only 4 cupcakes out of conference, then that's just dumb. Ticket sales go down, and you put yourself in a position where your final record is a total fraud, where you might go 4-0 out of conference and only win 1 or 2 SEC games. But it's just as ridiculous to come up with a non-conference schedule involving three or four top 25 teams. That's called recklessly exposing your program to an extent that no responsible schedule maker would. So for your average program, I think the right strategy is two challenging opponents (whether major conference or good mid-majors) and two cupcakes if you play in a tough league. If you really think your team will be in consideration for the playoff, then schedule more aggressively than what I just stated. Different programs have different goals, and should have the freedom to schedule accordingly. 9 conference games just doesn't allow that to any measurable extent. That's why I'm opposed.



What I'm really talking about though is a change in the order of business.  I would love it if all the power conferences did nothing but play each other for 12 games a year.  More quality football all the way around.

I understand your bball comparison, but it's a different sport.  There are far more basketball games to be played and a different goal in mind.  68 teams make the tournament in bball whereas only 4 will make it in football.  That means any team's chances of making the playoff in a given year are pretty small.  Meanwhile, there could be more quality games for everyone if the cupcakes were dropped across the board.


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