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Switching To A 9-Game Schedule Tricky, Not Impossible

confused-by-mathSooner or later, the Southeastern Conference will go to a nine-game conference schedule.  It’s easy to see why.  Creating better content for the SEC Network and the league’s broadcast partners (ESPN and CBS) will result in more cash for the league.  And if cash is a strong enough motivator to drive schools to new conferences and away from old rivals, it’s certainly a powerful enough motivator to push through an extra league game per season for each football program.

But getting from A to B could be tricky.  Or so it’s been said.

Before we look at the SEC’s schedule rotation, let’s tackle some fears that are being drummed up at the moment.

 

“If the SEC goes to a nine-game league schedule, schools will stop playing good non-conference opponents.”

The four SEC schools with annual games against in-state rivals (Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina) have made it clear that they would probably nix a quality non-conference game if the league goes to a nine-game schedule.  The reality is that two factors will still play a role in scheduling: the new College Football Playoff and money.

If it becomes clear that teams in other leagues are scheduling 11 big-conference teams per year (nine in conference, two out of conference), then the SEC teams hoping to reach the playoff will have to follow suit.  Strength of schedule is expected to be a key element in picking teams for the four-team playoff.  SEC squads will either do what everyone does or cross their fingers and hope that selection committee members see a nine-game SEC slate as being tougher than other leagues’ nine-game conference schedules.  That’s possible, but with SEC fatigue having already helped push America to a playoff, would the league’s teams want to risk it?

As for money, if the folks at Cowboys Stadium or the new downtown Atlanta stadium guarantee an SEC team a hefty payout to come in and play a good non-conference foe, it’s doubtful that that SEC squad would pass up the opportunity.

The idea that you’ll never see another good non-conference game on your team’s schedule has been overblown.  Most league schools play one good non-conference opponent and three cupcakes now.  If anything — and UGA president Michael Adams recently said this — fans have shown they’re tired of paying to see creampuff games.  It’s likely then that the extra SEC game created by a nine-game schedule would replace a game against an FCS-type foe rather than a game against a decent draw.

 

“Florida and Georgia could face a year where they have only five home games.”

If you’re going to make an omelette, you’re going to have to break some eggs.  Either a) Florida and Georgia exercise the outs they had to have worked into their contracts with the city of Jacksonville or b) they play at EverBank Field every other year.  That one neutral site game is the most complicating issue of moving to a nine-game schedule.  But we’ll have more on that below.  Suffice it to say, neither Florida nor Georgia would be forced into a five-game home schedule just by shifting to a nine-game conference schedule.

 

“With a nine-game schedule, some schools will host five games while others host just four… giving those schools with more home games an advantage.”

The Big Ten just adopted a nine-game schedule for its 14-school league and nixed this argument in the process.  Under the new Big Ten plan, all of the schools in one division will play the same number of home games in a given year.  If East teams play five home games this year and West teams play four, next year the West’s teams would play five home games and the East’s four.

As we’ll show below, the transition to such a schedule would not be as difficult as you might think.

 

Let’s keep a couple of other points in mind, too.  First, thanks to the SEC Network, the league office will have to somehow get more involved in scheduling.  There is no way the league office wants to see a repeat of last November 17th’s “Pay-Per-View Day!”

On that Saturday, Arkansas played Mississippi State, Ole Miss played LSU, Tennessee played Vanderbilt and Missouri hosted Syracuse.  The rest of the schedule looked like this: Alabama A&M at Auburn, Western Carolina at Alabama, Jacksonville State at Florida, Georgia Southern at Georgia, Samford at Kentucky, Wofford at South Carolina and Sam Houston State at Texas A&M.

How much the league will get involved and in what way is anyone’s guess, but that kind of a lineup won’t help get a new television channel off the ground.  So like it or not, the SEC is about to start providing scheduling “tips.”

Second, the new money coming in from the network, the playoff, the new league-owned Sugar Bowl, and a new bowl lineup will more than make up for the lost revenue from a home game every other season.  Pre-2000s, before the NCAA allowed schools to play a 12-game schedule, schools played six to seven home games per year anyway.  That would be the case once more, only with millions of extra dollars from new revenue streams pouring into each school’s coffers.

Finally, those schools with in-state, non-conference rivals would certainly be more limited in their scheduling options.  But that’s the case with an eight-game conference schedule, too.

Trust us not that much would have to change in a nine-game universe.  If the SEC adopted our plan…

For the sake of simplicity, let’s target the 2017 season as a potential switchover date for the SEC.  It’s expected that the league will unveil at least the next three year’s worth of conference schedules at its spring meetings in Destin.  Assuming 2014, 2015 and 2016 are done, we’ll look to 2017 as it also meshes with the 2013 schedule in terms of who’s at home and who is on the road.

Now, we believe the league — when it goes to nine games — will adopt a 6-1-2 rotation.  The plan for rotating those two cross-divisional foes could fill a post of its own, so we’ll just go the simple route here.  Each team would play one rotating cross-divisional foe at home and one rotating cross-divisional foe on the road.

Before we go further, let’s look at the SEC East and West schedules as they are currently scheduled to look in 2017… with an additional game against a rotating cross-divisional foe thrown in for good measure.
Also, just for the sake of argument, we’ll go ahead and move the Georgia-Florida game back to the campuses (Florida’s in this case).

You’ll notice that we’ve also included a row for those SEC squads engaged in annual rivals with in-state, non-conference foes.

 

East 2017 nine-game schedule

    FLORIDA   GEORGIA   KENTUCKY   MISSOURI   S. CAROLINA   TENNESSEE   VANDERBILT
  DIVISION   UT   USC   UF   @ VU   @ UGA   @ UF   @ USC
  DIVISION   @ UK   @ UT   @ USC   @ UGA   VU   UGA   MU
  DIVISION   @ MU   MU   MU   UF   UK   USC   UGA
  DIVISION   UGA   @ VU   @ VU   USC   @ UT   @ MU   @ UF
  DIVISION   VU   @ UF   @ UGA   UT   @ MU   VU   UK
  DIVISION   @ USC   UK   UT   @ UK   UF   @ UK   @ UT
  PERMANENT   @ LSU   @ AUB   @ MSU   A&M   @ ARK   @ ALA   UM
  ROTATING   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A
  ROTATING   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B
  RIVAL   FLA. ST.   @ GA. TECH   L’VILLE   CLEMSON

 

West 2017 nine-game schedule

  ALABAMA   ARKANSAS   AUBURN   LSU   MISS. STATE   OLE MISS   TEXAS A&M
  DIVISION   @ A&M   A&M   MSU   AUB   @ AUB   @ ALA   ALA
  DIVISION   UM   @ ALA   @ LSU   @ MSU   LSU   @ AUB   @ ARK
  DIVISION   ARK   AUB   UM   @ UM   @ A&M   A&M   @ UM
  DIVISION   LSU   @ UM   @ A&M   @ ALA   ALA   LSU   AUB
  DIVISION   @ MSU   MSU   @ ARK   A&M   @ ARK   ARK   MSU
  DIVISION   @ AUB   @ LSU   ALA   ARK   UM   @ MSU   @ LSU
  PERMANENT   UT   USC   UGA   UF   UK   @ VU   @ MU
  ROTATING   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A
  ROTATING   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B
  RIVAL

 

Note that in odd-numbered years, Georgia could host six games maximum — not five — even though it’s game with Georgia Tech is played on the road.  In even-numbered years, Georgia could play as many as eight home games (with Georgia Tech and Florida visiting Athens).

Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina could host a maximum of seven games every year as a product of their rivalry games and those specific home/road rotations.

Everyone else in the league would be able to host a maximum of either seven or eight games depending on the year.

On the negative side, you’ve no doubt noticed that not all teams in the same division would have the same number of home games in a given year, but we have a simple way to fix that.

Below you’ll see another version of a nine-game 2017 schedule.

Teams in each division would play the same number of home games.

Permanent foes are protected — as they currently are — with the SEC’s traditional haves facing the other haves and the traditional have-nots facing their fellow have-nots.  This works well for parity, whether LSU is happy about having to play Florida every season or not.

The home-and-home rotations for UF-Florida State, UGA-Georgia Tech, UK-Louisville, and USC-Clemson would not have to be upset, either.

For the sake of making a clean break, let’s assume that the league would kickstart a new cycle of rotating cross-divisional foes.  In other words, whoever a team played from the other division in 2016 would not matter in 2017.  Consider 2017 to be Year One on the Mayan calendar.

You’ll see that all of those things can be accomplished with slight tweaks to just eight teams’ schedules.  (Those changes are in bold, italicized text.)

 

East 2017 nine-game schedule (modified)

    FLORIDA   GEORGIA   KENTUCKY   MISSOURI   S. CAROLINA   TENNESSEE   VANDERBILT
  DIVISION   UT   USC   UF   @ VU   @ UGA   @ UF   @ USC
  DIVISION   @ UK   @ UT   @ USC   @ UGA   VU   UGA   MU
  DIVISION   @ MU   MU   MU   UF   UK   USC   UGA
  DIVISION   UGA   @ VU   @ VU   USC   @ UT   @ MU   @ UF
  DIVISION   VU   @ UF   @ UGA   UT   @ MU   VU   UK
  DIVISION   @ USC   UK   UT   @ UK   UF   @ UK   @ UT
  PERMANENT   @ LSU   @ AUB   @ MSU   @ ARK   @ A&M   @ ALA   @ UM
  ROTATING   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A   TEAM A
  ROTATING   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B   @ TEAM B
  RIVAL   FLA. ST.   @ GA. TECH   L’VILLE   CLEMSON

 

West 2017 nine-game schedule (modified)

  ALABAMA   ARKANSAS   AUBURN   LSU   MISS. STATE   OLE MISS   TEXAS A&M
  DIVISION   @ A&M   A&M   MSU   AUB   @ AUB   @ ALA   ALA
  DIVISION   UM   @ ALA   @ LSU   @ MSU   LSU   @ AUB   @ ARK
  DIVISION   ARK   AUB   UM   @ UM   @ A&M   A&M   @ UM
  DIVISION   LSU   @ UM   @ A&M   @ ALA     ALA   LSU   AUB
  DIVISION   @ MSU   MSU   @ ARK   A&M   @ ARK   ARK   MSU
  DIVISION   @ AUB   @ LSU   ALA   ARK   UM   @ MSU   @ LSU
  PERMANENT   UT   MU   UGA   UF   UK   VU   USC
  ROTATING   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A   @ TEAM A
  ROTATING   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B   TEAM B
  RIVAL

 

Here are the changes we made to create a that balanced nine-game schedule:

 

1.  Arkansas would exchange South Carolina as its permanent foe for Missouri (a change that is reportedly already in the works).  Missouri would be a 2017 home game for Arkansas, just as South Carolina would have been.

2.  Texas A&M would exchange Missouri as its permanent foe for South Carolina (a change that is reportedly already in the works). The 2017 Missouri game would have been a road game, but A&M would host Carolina instead.

3.  Ole Miss would host Vanderbilt for a second consecutive year.

4.  Florida would host Georgia, rather than playing in Jacksonville.

5.  Georgia would travel to Florida, rather than playing in Jacksonville

6.  Vanderbilt would travel to Ole Miss for a second consecutive year.

7.  South Carolina would exchange Arkansas as its permanent foe for Texas A&M (a change that is reportedly already in the works).  Texas A&M would be a 2017 road game for South Carolina, just as Arkansas would have been.

8.  Missouri would exchange Texas A&M as its permanent foe for Arkansas (a change that is reportedly already in the works).  The 2017 Texas A&M game would have been a home game for Missouri, but Arkansas would host Missouri instead.

 

We know there are a lot of complicated formulas floating around out there, but if the rotation can’t be broken down on one page of a media guide, the SEC probably won’t adopt it.  Fans claim bias when the rotation is easy to follow.  If the rotation requires an MIT education to understand it you can be sure the complaints and conspiracy theories would go all-out nuclear.

The above plan is easy to bring to life.  Flip-flop the permanent cross-divisional rivalries involving Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas A&M as planned.  Have Vanderbilt play at Ole Miss in back-to-back years.  And move the Florida/Georgia game back to the schools’ campuses.

Do that and you can have a nine-game schedule that protects both rivals and parity scheduling, that ensures all league teams can host a minimum of six overall games per season, and that enables conference rivals to see one another more often.

As for the game formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, if Georgia and Florida want to continue to visit Jacksonville on occasion, they can do so in even-numbered years.  In 2017, the game would be played in Gainesville giving both teams four SEC home games and five SEC road games.  In 2018, with the East’s teams scheduled to host five SEC games, Florida could give up a home game and move the game to Jacksonville.  In that case, Florida would play four games on campus and five games off campus while Georgia would play five games on campus and four games off like everyone else in the East.  In 2019, Georgia could host the game.  In 2020 — another even-numbered year with the East’s teams hosting five games — UGA could give up its game to Jacksonville.  That would leave the Bulldogs with four on-campus games and five off-campus.  The Gators would have five on-campus and four off-campus like the rest of their East rivals.  Such a plan would look like this: Gainesville, Jacksonville, Athens, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Athens, Jacksonville and so on.  And before anyone huffs too much about UF or UGA having to sacrifice a home game, remember, they’re doing that very thing now with an eight-game schedule.  With this plan, they’d be giving away a home game once every four years instead of once every two.  They’d never give one up if they moved their game back to their campuses as was done in 1994 and 1995.

 

We’ve gone to great lengths to overexplain this, but the reality is this is a pretty dadgum simple nine-game plan.  And when in doubt, the SEC usually follows the simplest plan.

When the league expanded in 1992, it would have made more geographic sense to put Vanderbilt in the West and Auburn in the East.  But it was simpler to just keep Vandy and Tennessee together, Alabama and Auburn together, and split the league’s six traditional powers right down the middle with three going into each division.

When the SEC expanded in 2012, there was talk of shifting Auburn to the East and placing Missouri in the West.  There was also some talk of moving both Alabama and Auburn east while shifting Missouri and Vanderbilt in the other direction.  Those moves would have ended some traditional rivalries and upset the balance of the divisions.  The league took the simple way out — as we predicted at the time — and simply plopped Missouri down in the East Division.

When it came to creating new schedules for the 14-team league, there was debate over whether or not to scrap the idea of permanent cross-divisional rivals.  What was the easiest thing to do?  Just keep the status quo.  And the permanent rivalries survived.

We have nothing against more complicated plans — heck, we’ve been pushing our own eight-game, divisionless plan forever — but we’re very much aware that conferences rarely adopt a tricky plan when a simpler one is on the table.

For that reason, we’re guessing that eventually the SEC will adopt the schedule you see above.

 


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