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SEC Inches Closer To 8-Game Schedule With Permanent Cross-Division Foes

The SEC is almost there.  The league’s athletic directors are almost ready to vote on a new scheduling format for the soon-to-be 14-team league.

Seth Emerson of The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and The Macon Telegraph — he’s so good one paper can’t hold him — spoke with former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton — the head of the league’s transition committee — yesterday.  There were no major revelations, but things already thought to be in the works came closer to being confirmed.

Among Templeton’s comments:

“I would say that the permanent games are probably as safe as anything that’s on the table.  I think there is a strong commitment to keep the traditional games in this league.  And to do that you have to keep the permanent opponents.”

As we’ve said at this site since Missouri and Texas A&M joined, there was a strong probability that the SEC — a league based on tradition in a region that reveres heritage — would keep cross-divisional foes in the end.  The Big 12 might nuke an Oklahoma-Nebraska, but the heads of state in the SEC would be too smart to ix-nay Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia.

A month ago, the presidents at South Carolina and Texas A&M were leaking and tweeting information that they would become permanent cross-divisional rivals which suggested Missouri would the pair off with Arkansas.  Mike Slive refused to discuss that and since then the presidents and ADs have maintained radio silence on the subject.  Emerson’s interview with Templeton didn’t go down that road, either.

But the former MSU AD did surprise by saying that a nine-game schedule isn’t completely off the table.  In January he said: “We’re not going to nine.  It would be an easier scheduling format, but I don’t think it would be fair to our players or our coaches.”  Here’s what he told Emerson yesterday:

“(A nine-game option) was on the table and is still technically on the table.  There have been no votes to say this won’t happen.  There are some institutions that have some interest (in nine league games).  I don’t have a feel that it’s strong enough to place in there.  But I’ve been in enough AD’s meetings where that pendulum changes from one to the other.”

Templeton told Emerson the main problems with a nine-game schedule are:

1.  The home/away splits (some teams would play five home games while others would play just four in even years, then in odd years that would flip)

2.  ADs don’t want to give up the money of a seventh home game (though we’ve pointed out many times that until this past decade a seventh home game was never guaranteed anyway)

3.  Another league game adds an automatic loss for seven SEC teams which might hurt their bowl eligibility.  In other words, better to schedule a cupcake and go to the Tupelo Bowl than give fans another league game for their money’s worth.

We’ve made our case for the nine-game schedule many times, including right here.

Finally, last month word leaked that the SEC would likely stay with an eight-game schedule that protected the permanent cross-division foes.  In order to see teams more than once every decade, the rotating cross-divisional opponent would change each year, rather than every two years as is the case now.  Instead of playing a cross-division foe home this year and away next year, a school would play that foe at home this year… and then return the trip six years down the line.  As an example, Auburn — if it kept Georgia as its permanent rival — would play at Florida just once every 12 years.

Templeton confirmed that that is one of two or three formats still being discussed.

Mr. Transition also stated that the basketball schedule has been set and that the league will — as we’ve known for a while — move to an 18-game schedule just as it had planned to do pre-expansion.  He also confirmed that division play in basketball will not return.

We broke down how an 18-game divisionless schedule might look — including our “4-1-8″ plan — back in January.  Our plan is based on history and tradition first and foremost.

Getting back to football, Templeton said the league is “close” to reaching a final verdict:

“But what we’re trying to do is make sure the ADs have the ability to look at all the different format options and we’ve zeroed in on two or three of those formats.  And we’re trying to give them some full rotation data, as to what the rotations would look like.”

He told Emerson that he hoped the league’s 14 athletic directors would be able to meet in late-April or early-May.  Regardless of when the ADs make a final vote, the presidents will weigh in at the SEC Meetings in Destin right around Memorial Day.

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