The SEC Spring Meetings are currently under way in Destin, FL, and one of the most anticipated topics of discussion has been what football scheduling format the league will adopt when Texas and Oklahoma will join the league in 2024.
For some time now, the options seem to have narrowed to either a nine-game format (three permanent opponents and six rotating opponents) or an eight-game format (one permanent opponent and seven rotating opponents), with each option having the benefit of allowing teams to play all of their conference mates within a two-year period. But recent reports have indicated that it’s unlikely the league will go with the 9-game format.
The factors playing into this decision are far from straightforward, as you have many different voices wanting many different things. But to me, one thing is certain: No matter what your objective is, adopting an eight-game format with a 16-team conference is short-sighted and small-minded, and ultimately, would be costly for the SEC.
So what are those factors? I can’t pretend to know what’s happening behind closed doors, but if the public discourse is to be believed, here are some of the big issues at play:
Would a 9th game mean more TV money?
Some seem to think that adding another conference game is only valuable if ESPN increases their payout as a result (and reports are that at the moment, that’s not the case). This is likely because even though those games would be more attractive, it means that for one week a year, ESPN ends up with only seven SEC games (each game featuring two SEC teams) instead of the previous 14 (everyone playing a non-conference opponent).
But decisions about a conference scheduling format should be made with long-term goals in mind, not short-term ones. Adding another conference game means more ticket revenue, more fan interest, better TV ratings, and from top to bottom, a more attractive conference. Make the decisions that position your conference as the best in college football and the money will inevitably follow, even if it isn’t immediately.
Would a 9th game cost the SEC spots in the Playoff?
A popular argument is that playing another SEC opponent when you could have played a G5 or FCS cupcake instead opens up the possibility of adding a loss to a team’s record that could cost them a spot in the expanded College Football Playoff. And sure, that possibility exists. But just as likely a scenario exists where an SEC team has won 9 or 10 games, and is passed over by a team with a similar record but a more challenging schedule. Playoff expansion means there will be a bevy of 2- and 3-loss teams vying for those at-large spots, and WHO you played will mean more than it ever has before. Might the committee punish the SEC for trying to give themselves an easier Playoff path than other conferences?
The bottom line is that the SEC prides itself on being the most challenging conference in the country, so don’t shy away from that. Own it. We are the most difficult, and it should be (in part) BECAUSE of how many conference games we play, not despite it.
The SEC would have fewer bowl-eligible teams
This is one where I don’t have a direct retort, because math exists. Essentially you’d be taking away a non-conference game where most teams have a 90% chance of winning and replacing it with a game only 50% of teams will win. So yes, you’ll have teams who previously would’ve gone 6-6 and been bowl-eligible and are now sitting at home at 5-7. But to be blunt, who cares? This decision shouldn’t be made based on whether a small handful of teams occasionally don’t get to go bowling. And financially, half the conference getting an extra conference home game every year would likely more than make up for whatever revenue the conference would lose by having fewer bowl teams.
Ultimately the SEC needs to focus less on why they shouldn’t move to a nine-game schedule and more on why they should.
- It allows teams to maintain historic rivalries that otherwise would be relegated to only being played every year. Those include A&M vs. Texas, Georgia vs. Auburn, Alabama vs. Tennessee, and many others. Passing on the opportunity to maintain these games that are so much a part of the fabric of college football simply because you won’t be paid more to do so is bad decision-making, flat out.
- It puts you on par with the other power conferences. If you want to maintain your preeminence, voluntarily giving your critics a talking point about why your schedule is “lesser than” makes zero sense.
- Adding the 9th game doesn’t cost you anything. It may not get you any additional money (immediately), but that shouldn’t be the sole driver. If the money is the same either way, why not opt for the format that creates a better product? And yes, ultimately, SEC football is a product, and the goal should be to maximize the value of that product. It’s undeniable that adding a 9th conference game (instead of a game against a cupcake opponent) increases the reputation/perception of the conference, and it has the potential to increase the revenue in the long-term as well via ticket revenue (premiere home games mean higher ticket prices and higher attendance) as well as future TV contracts once networks see the ratings boost an additional SEC game provides.
The SEC claims that “it just means more.” It’s time they put their money where their mouth is instead of the other way around.
Which scheduling format do you prefer?
This poll is closed
8 games (1 permanent opponent, 7 rotating
9 games (3 permanent opponents, 6 rotating)