When it comes to the Power Five conferences, no league takes more grief over scheduling than the SEC. Mike Slive's league has taken a beating all offseason for not playing a nine-game conference schedule (just as we said would happen about a million times over the past three years). There are also the ongoing complaints regarding SEC's teams unwillingness to travel beyond their own backyard.
Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez says he approached LSU about playing a home-and-home series. "They weren't interested," he said. "They wouldn't tell you why. They just weren't interested." So the Tigers and Badgers will meet in Houston this season and at Lambeau Field in Green Bay the season after next. Wisconsin will also play Alabama in a neutral site game next season in Arlington, Texas.
A Wisconsin-centric view would be that no SEC team wants a part of Camp Randall Stadium, and having been to Camp Randall, I can understand why. It's not an easy place to play.
Before tackling the fraidy cat theory, let's take a look at how SEC schools really are scheduling. Let's also compare the SEC's recent schedules to those of the Big Ten's schools.
For this exercise, we've looked at each SEC and Big Ten school's schedules from 2010 through 2015. For Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M, we've gone ahead and examined their non-conference scheduling habits while they were members of the Big 12. When looking at Power Five opponents, we count those that will be in Power Five leagues beginning this season (so a game at Rutgers would count as a Power Five game even if it were played in 2010). We've also used the future footprint of the Big Ten which will include New Jersey and Maryland. However, since neither school has actually played a Big Ten schedule yet, we did not include Rutgers and Maryland in our tallies.
A few numbers for you...
True Road Games
SEC: 14 schools have scheduled 53 true road games. That's an average of 3.78 per team over a six-year period. Per season, the 14-member SEC has played an average of 8.83 true road games.
Big Ten: 12 schools have scheduled 61 true road games. That's an average of 5.08 per team over a a six-year period. Per season, the 12-member Big Ten has played an average of 10.16 true road games.
True Road Games vs Power Five Schools
SEC: 14 schools have played 31 true road games versus Power Five schools. That's an average of 2.21 per team over a six-year period. Per season, the 14-member SEC has played an average of 5.16 true road games versus Power Five competition.
Big Ten: 12 schools have played 37 true road games versus Power Five schools. That's an average of 3.08 per team over a six-year period. Per season, the 12-member Big Ten has played an average of 6.16 true road games versus Power Five competition.
True Road Games Outside the Conference's Geographic Footprint
SEC: 14 schools have played just 18 true road games outside the SEC's geographic footprint. That's an average of only 1.28 per team over a six-year period. Per season, the 14-member SEC has played an averaged of only 3.00 true road games outside the league's footprint.
Big Ten: 12 schools have played 40 true road games outside the Big Ten's geographic footprint. That's an average of 3.33 per team over a six-year period. Per season, the 12-member Big Ten has played an average of 6.66 true road games outside the league's footprint.
Over the years, we've taken our fair share of shots at SEC schedules. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that each November we have to see SEC squads pick their teeth with FCS opponents. There's no true accomplishment in a school scheduling its way into a bowl game, either. A 2-6 league mark married with four victories over cupcakes is no reason to celebrate.
However, when it comes to the idea so often extolled on Big Ten fan sites and blogs that the SEC is scared to travel, well, we'll disagree. To an extent.
First, it's no wonder Big Ten teams travel outside their geographic footprint nearly three times more often than SEC squads do -- the Big Ten region is losing population. Big Ten commish Jim Delany has been talking about population and demographic shifts for years now. Expanding east (Rutgers) and south (Maryland) were strategic moves made with census data in hand. The South is booming. The Rust Belt and Upper Midwest are slumping. Southeastern Conference teams have little reason to travel as they're sitting in prime recruiting country. Big Ten schools need to break down some barriers in order to woo athletes from Florida, Texas and California. Of that league's 40 outside-the-footprint games, nine were played or are scheduled to be played in those three states.
Second, the SEC has developed a love affair with neutral site games for good reason -- they bring viewership and revenue like an extra bowl game played at the start of the season. Wisconsin and LSU are both scheduled to make more than $2 million as the "road" teams in their neutral site series (LSU at Lambeau Field and Wisconsin at Reliant Stadium). The folks behind the Chick-fil-A Kickoff series boast that their games pay out more than most postseason bowl games. Alabama and West Virginia will each pocked over $3 million for participating this season. Tennessee and Virginia Tech will open their 2016 campaigns at Bristol Motor Speedway with a projected per-team payout topping $4 million.
Hey, there's no question SEC schools could schedule some tougher true road games outside their own region. But the nation's hottest recruiting zone surrounds their campuses. And there's a lot more money to be made by playing at neutral sites. Logic seems to play a bigger role in SEC non-conference scheduling than fear.