Last Friday, the Big 12 and the SEC announced that the two leagues would come together to create their own bowl game featuring the champions of both conferences (in the unlikely event one or both should fail to reach college football’s new four-team playoff).
Almost immediately, emails started to pour in here at MrSEC.com. The gist was as follows: “If the Pac-12 and Big Ten can partner in the Rose Bowl and in a new round-robin regular-season scheduling agreement, why can’t the SEC and Big 12 do the same?”
Makes sense. And the press has started getting behind the idea, too.
Yesterday, Cecil Hurt of TideSports.com — a hybrid of Rivals.com and The Tuscaloosa News — wrote the following:
“But with all the talk about the changes in postseason football, and particularly the new SEC-Big 12 ‘champions’ matchup, doesn’t it seem sensible that the conferences – especially what now appear to be the four soon-to-be super conferences (the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12 and the Pac-12) should take charge of opening weekend as well. With the coming playoff, even a four-team playoff, it makes more sense than ever.
To be honest, a Georgia-Oklahoma game would seem far more compelling to me on Labor Day than New Year’s Day, if those teams are out of the playoff picture. Not every matchup can be Alabama-Michigan, and not every one can sell out an NFL-sized stadium in a neutral city in a matter of hours.”
It’s a good piece. You should read it. But there are two things standing between the plan Hurt and many fans support and reality. And both are already being used by people inside the SEC as reasons to avoid adding a ninth conference game.
* First, if SEC coaches don’t want play a ninth league game, why would they be in favor of playing a ninth game against a team from the second-most successful league of the BCS era?
* Second, if SEC athletic directors don’t want to play a ninth conference game because it would mean giving up a home game every other season, why would they want to give up a home game every other season in order to play a team from the Big 12?
While schools in the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 are fine with playing a minimum of nine BCS-level foes per year, many SEC schools want to cap things at eight for bowl eligibility purposes. (Southern Cal, for example, will play nine Pac-12 games, one game against a Big Ten foe each year, as well as its yearly tilt with Notre Dame. That makes 11 BCS-level games per year.)
Additionally, the folks in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have pointed out often that they already have a built-in BCS-level game as part of their schedules thanks to their in-state rivalries with Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson. (Kentucky fans would argue that Louisville is a major conference team as well, but the Big East is far from a major conference anymore.)
This brings us to what could be a better option altogether for the SEC… if the league actually wants to help tap the brakes on conference expansion.
Last year, the SEC welcomed in Texas A&M and then Missouri from the Big 12. That move destabilized the Big 12 until ESPN and FOX stepped in to dole out major cash to the league in an effort to hold it together.
Just last week, the SEC aided the Big 12′s rejuvenation process with the aforementioned bowl partnership. That gave the Big 12 more stability moving forward, but in turn, it made the ACC appear even more vulnerable. If the ACC is vulnerable, then massive realignment is still a possibility.
We’ve been told repeatedly from sources at just about every SEC school that no one in the league is anxious to become a 15- or 16-team conference. Just this week, interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told an Austin, Texas radio station that an “SEC colleague” had told him not to expand past 12 because 14 is “unruly.”
So how could the SEC make more money, fend off “strength of schedule” attacks from rival leagues (by guaranteeing nine BCS-level games per year), and help save the ACC? All the while making sure those folks already playing ACC schools don’t balk?
The answer is pretty clear.
In his column yesterday, Hurt suggested a series of Big 12-SEC games be played on opening weekend each year. Not bad. But if the SEC truly wants to slow expansion, we believe it should set up a series of annual games against the 14 ACC schools instead.
SEC coaches would likely be less worried about an ACC game tacked onto the schedule than a game against a Big 12 foe. Playing most of those games at neutral sites and grabbing a sponsor and an overall television partner would quiet SEC AD’s groans regarding lost income from lost home games every other year, too.
The SEC’s television partners have already asked the league to start scheduling better games toward the end of the season. For that reason — as well as the fact that USC-CU, UF-FSU, and UGA-GT already play at the end of the season — we would suggest lining up neutral site ACC-SEC rivalry games over the final two weeks of the season.
The ACC and SEC share a major corporate partner in AT&T. Now let’s say ESPN, AT&T and nine NFL cities/stadiums all cough up dough to create the AT&T SEC-ACC Football Challenge each season? How much money would that be worth? How much would that help the SEC in answering cries that its teams only play eight guaranteed BCS-level foes per season? How much would such income — and a partnership with the SEC — help stabilize the ACC.
Answer to all: A bunch.
As a hypothetical, let’s imagine that Carolina-Clemson, Florida-FSU, and Georgia-Georgia Tech continue to play each other on a home-and-home basis. Ditto Vanderbilt and Wake Forest which are winding down a seven-year home-and-home contract themselves. If Kentucky squawked over having to play both Louisville and an ACC foe, give them a permanent home-and-home rivalry with the ACC’s traditional cellar-dweller, Duke. There’s already a hoops rivalry there between the fanbases.
That leaves nine schools from each league to pair with one another each season. Those schools could rotate foes on a regular basis, always meeting on neutral sites. Here’s an example of what might be possible in a single season:
Alabama vs Pittsburgh at LP Field in Nashville, TN
Arkansas vs North Carolina at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
Auburn vs Syracuse at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ
Clemson at South Carolina (permanent foe, home and home)
Kentucky at Duke (permanent foe, home and home)
Florida State at Florida (permanent foe, home and home)
Georgia at Georgia Tech (permanent foe, home and home)
Kentucky at Duke (permanent foe, home and home)
LSU vs Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Washington, DC
Missouri vs Virginia at The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO
Mississippi State vs North Carolina State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC
Ole Miss vs Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD
Tennessee vs Boston College at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA
Texas A&M vs Miami at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX
Wake Forest at Vanderbilt (permanent foe, home and home)
Other stadiums and cities could be used based upon a bidding process and availability — Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the Superdome in New Orleans, Reliant Stadium in Houston, Yankee Stadium in New York, etc, etc. Those sites could rotate in and out, too. The above is just an example of what’s possible.
Lining up a year-in, year-out sponsored series of late-season football games against the ACC would accomplish three things:
1. It would bring in more dollars for both leagues (which should be enough to get the ACC on board with such a plan).
2. Those dollars and the credibility of partnering with the SEC could help hold the ACC together (and prevent the SEC from having to expand again so soon after going two new teams).
3. It would guarantee each SEC foe at least nine BCS-level contests per season, which would aid the league in the polls and computer rankings.
We at MrSEC.com understand the thinking behind a Big 12-SEC regular-season partnership to rival the Big Ten’s new deal with the Pac-12. But we believe the better play would be in setting up an annual SEC-ACC partnership. Better for the ACC. Better for the SEC. Better for the stability of the college football landscape.