Sooner 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…
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