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Shock Of Shocks: SEC To Consider A 9-Game Schedule Again

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.

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Bama’s Saban Favors A 9-Game SEC Slate

Shhhh.

Whenever we mention anything about a nine-game conference schedule, a few folks get nasty in our comment section.  So darn you, Nick Saban.  It’s too bad you had to go and open up about wanting to move to a — wait for it — nine-game schedule.  (And if some of you don’t want to read the news, folks, no one’s making you.)

 

“I’m satisfied with what everybody determined, but in all honesty, I was kind of for playing more games.  When you increase the size of the league by 15 percent, you’ve almost got to play more games to get a true indication of who is the best team in the league.  I think we should come up with some format in the future where every player in the league gets an opportunity to play every team in the league.  We’ve kind of had that in the past.  This format won’t necessarily give every player an opportunity to do that.”

 

Saban said it was the schools already playing nine BCS-level games via annual, year-end rivals who scuttled the plan for nine league games.  Nevermind the fact that Alabama has been playing nine BCS foes per year throughout Saban’s tremendous run — Virginia Tech, Clemson, Penn State, and this year Michigan.  For that matter, LSU played 10 BCS-level foes last season including Oregon at neutral site and West Virginia on the road.  At least some schools aren’t afraid to mix it up with a few more big boys each season.

“In some cases, whether it’s Florida having to play Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech, they already have another game that’s a tough game for them,” Saban told The Tuscaloosa News.  “So when you play more conference games, now their schedule gets a little overloaded the other way.”

Unless of course you consider schools like Alabama who’ve been “overloading” their schedules the other way for national exposure, recruiting boosts, and strength of schedule help in the BCS formula.

Ah, well.  The league will be forced to go to nine games soon enough.

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The SEC’s Mr. Transition Talks Scheduling

Former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton — the head of the SEC’s transition team — has opened up again regarding schedule issues facing the conference moving forward.  Speaking with The Birmingham News, Templeton revealed the following (some of which is new, some not):


1.  The SEC’s television partners want the league to start scheduling more games in the first two and last two weeks of the college football season.  “TV wants them,” Templeton told Jon Solomon.  “For instance, right now the next-to-last weekend of the season is a real weak weekend for us as it relates to games that we want to put on television as part of our conference package.  Now that we have more games, we need to space some of them more.”

Our take: Some schools traditionally close with one another: Alabama-Auburn, Arkansas-LSU, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Tennessee, Mississippi State-Ole Miss, South Carolina-Clemson.  It’s unlikely that any of those games will move from the final weekend, which leaves Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt open for the last week of the season. 

Barring any major changes, it makes sense then that Templeton would target the next-to-last weekend for better games.  This past season, the SEC’s slate on that Saturday featured (and we use that term loosely): Alabama-Georgia Southern, Arkansas-MSU, Auburn-Samford, Florida-Furman, Georgia-Kentucky, LSU-Ole Miss, South Carolina-The Citadel, and Tennessee-Vanderbilt. 

Aside from a few traditional rivalries that have always been held around the same time of year, now is an excellent time for the SEC to create a new rotation of game dates.  One year, for example, East Division foes Florida and Missouri could meet in the heat of the Sunshine State, early in the season.  The following year, the Gators could be shipped to Mizzou in chilly November.  With television driving so much of this, it’s time for the SEC to start considering venue and game date when laying out its schedule.


2.  Templeton remains interested in asking the NCAA to drop its requirement that leagues must have two divisions and round-robin play within those divisions in order to hold a conference championship game.

Our take:  SEC coaches and ADs want to stick with an eight-game league schedule.  To do so, the league would either need to dump permanent cross-divisional rivalries or live with the fact that rotating just one inter-divisional foe every two years would result in schools facing one another just twice every 12 years.  (Currently, schools face each other twice every five seasons.)

Convincing the NCAA to change its championship game requirements would allow the league more options, without question.  But for that rule to change, the SEC would have to vote on such a measure at this year’s spring meetings and then send it to the NCAA for approval.  Other conferences might not be to eager to help the SEC do anything, however, and might block the move at the NCAA level.

We continue to believe that the SEC should move to a nine-game league schedule that includes two cross-divisional foes on a rotating basis and a permanent cross-divisional rival.  Other BCS conferences are going to nine-game schedules.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 schools will also begin playing each other on a yearly basis in 2017.  If the Big Ten and Pac-12 move to what would be 10-guaranteed games per season against BCS conference competition, the SEC will have to follow suit.  That or it could find itself the victim of voters and pollsters who will claim that SEC teams — in a real change from the current set-up — face the weakest schedules in the country.


3.  The SEC will move to an 18-game schedule for basketball next season.  Templeton says there will be no return to divisional play.  “Basically, you’d play everybody once for 13 games and then you would have to pick out another five, whether they were five from your division or five rivalry games.”

Our take:  This makes perfect sense, but we believe the league should go to a 4-1-8 format.  That would require each school to lock in four permanent rivals for home-and-away games each year.  In addition, one of the remaining nine teams in the league would rotate on and off each season as a home-and-away rival.  That would be five home-and-away rivals each year, plus eight games against other league foes — four at home, four on the road.

Such a rotation would save old rivals, create new rivals (it’s a way for Missouri and Arkansas, for example, to meet twice per year), and maintain an even number of home and road games for each school.

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Happy Thanksgiving Headlines, 2011

Before we rush to meet family and gobble down some turkey, we want to catch you up on some headlines from across the league.

But before we start the headlines, we want to extend our thanks to you for reading and supporting MrSEC.com.  Your loyalty is very much appreciated.

May all of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

 

1.  The NCAA’s scholarship reforms could change the way schools recruit.

2.  Alabama’s Trent Richardson has done well on the road this year… and a trip to Auburn is up next.

3.  Auburn is getting healthier as the Iron Bowl nears.

4.  Prepping for #1 LSU and reeling from the death of teammate Garrett Uekman, Bobby Petrino has kept his team away from the media this week.

5.  Tomorrow’s game will be one of the most important in Razorback history.

6.  LSU is in position to “bail out the BCS.”

7.  MSU’s Chad Bumphis is fired up for the Egg Bowl.

8.  The Ole Miss defense has been run ragged this season.

9.  John Brantley’s ankle has healed to the point that he’ll now be able to go under center when Florida faces Florida State.

10.  Auburn, Florida and Georgia Tech… with a win against the Yellow Jackets, Georgia can sweep its oldest rivals.

11.  There’s no official word on whether or not Isaiah Crowell will play Saturday.

12.  Kentucky’s quarterbacks aren’t 100% healthy with Tennessee up next.

13.  We were asked last night on Lexington radio about recent rumors that Joker Phillips won’t be back next year.  We don’t believe there’s anything to them… just like the Mark Richt resignation rumors from earlier this week.  These guys aren’t buying the Phillips talk, either.

14.  Should the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry move to Thanksgiving?

15.  Tennessee will look to correct red zone errors against Kentucky on Saturday.

16.  Depending on who’s eligible, Vanderbilt (or Mississippi State or Tennessee) could land in the Music City Bowl.

 

 

 

 

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SEC Headlines – 11/14/11 Part One

1.  Florida players — on-hand for early meeting yesterday morning — were told that 8-12 plays are the difference between Gator wins and Gator losses.

2.  Billy Donovan’s 7th-ranked squad will get a test from #3 Ohio State tonight in Los Angeles.

3.  Isaiah Crowell racked up the yards while Georgia was in “milk mode,” running out the clock against Auburn.

4.  Naturally, just as folks in the Peach State are starting to feel good again, their underclass players begin weighing their NFL plans.

5.  This writer has a few reasons why Kentucky fans should cut Joker Phillips some slack.

6.  John Calipari’s Cats battle Kansas at Madison Square Garden tonight.

7.  It looks like this year’s South Carolina-Clemson game will feature two ranked teams… a real rarity in the series.

8.  Darrin Horn isn’t concerned with when Bruce Ellington might return from football duty.

9.  Derek Dooley isn’t going to make his Tennessee team watch tape of last weekend’s bludgeoning at the hands of Arkansas.

10.  While the head coach won’t say so, all signs point to Tyler Bray returning as UT’s quarterback against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

11.  Vandy is preparing as if Bray will play… and they want to bring plenty of pressure.

12.  The basketball Commodores will try to bounce back from a loss to Cleveland State when they host Bucknell tonight.

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Spurrier Likes USC-Clemson Rivalry

Steve Spurrier is a fan of the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry.  He’s especially pleased that little venom exists between the two programs at this point — fans not included, of course.

“I think we have a good, healthy rivalry with Clemson now.  There’s no bad-mouthing in recruiting, at least that I know of, between Clemson and South Carolina now.  I realize some fans don’t want to hear that, but I believe that’s the way it should be.  I think Dabo (Swinney) and his guys believe that’s the way it should be, also.”

Spurrier even received a congratulatory text from Clemson’s coach upon winning the SEC East.  “He did text message me and I called him back and said, ‘I appreciate it.’  Usually most coaches don’t do that.”  (Spurrier said Mark Richt also congratulated him.)

“He’s a good person, good coach,” Spurrier said of Swinney.  “And he runs a good program up there.”

You wouldn’t catch Dan Mullen saying that kind of stuff about the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry.  Heck, you wouldn’t have caught Spurrier saying anything like that about the Florida-FSU rivalry 15 years ago.

Age must be mellowing the Ol’ Ball Coach a bit.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s hard to go wrong by showing class.

(The photo at left is from the massive brawl at the end of Lou Holtz’ final Carolina-Clemson game back in 2004.)

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