With the announcement of the upcoming SEC Network on Thursday, discussion and speculation about a nine-game SEC football schedule is heating up.
But SEC commissioner Mike Slive wants everyone to know that the launch of the SEC Network will not determine whether or not the conference does make the switch from eight to nine games.
“People make the connection between eight or nine games and the network and that’s not true. That’s not a connection. Our football scheduling philosophy will be done one way or the other regardless of the network. It doesn’t change anything,” Slive told Gametime this weekend.
“I think given the new playoff structure that’s coming, that will serve as a catalyst for further discussion as to whether or not we stay where we are, or whether we consider nine games, or we consider some other rotating format. And I think those conversations will take place. But the important point I want to make here is that…those conversations are not related to the network.”
Although Slive emphasized that the SEC Network will have no effect on the football schedule format, he did say they will have “further discussion” on the schedule in light of the upcoming playoff.
Those discussions will likely take place at the end of May at the Spring meetings in Destin, Florida. If nothing is settled then, talks could still continue well into the future.
But before that is resolved, the SEC will reportedly release the conference football schedule match-ups for 2014 through 2016. Last week, Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph that it should be sometime soon.
When Emerson inquired about the very same thing at the SEC Network announcement on Thursday, Mike Slive replied “Soon, I hope. Hopefully before (Destin).”
Back to the nine-game schedule talk, is it absolutely necessary the SEC move to that format? That will be tough to decipher until after a season or two has been played with the new College Football Playoff. Only then will we be able to see what criteria the selection committee uses to place the four semifinal teams.
If the committee simply says, for example, Ohio State had a tougher schedule than Florida because the Buckeyes played one more conference game than the Gators, then the SEC may need to take action.
On the other hand, the committee may break down each team’s schedule and look at it opponent by opponent. In that scenario, SEC schools could take a more aggressive approach in scheduling non-conference games to offset the extra conference game others are playing.
Using Florida as an example again, who plays Florida State every year, if they make a concerted effort to play Miami (FL) more often or perhaps another ACC or Big 12 school, that could be seen favorably in the eyes of the committee.
With all of that being said, there are a lot more questions now than there are answers. As the new system gets closer, the SEC and its members will have to adapt to the changing college football landscape.
Personally, I think it could go either way. SEC teams don’t absolutely have to add a conference game to have a tougher schedule. They can always schedule tougher non-conference games on their own. It will likely come down to what criteria the selection committees bases strength of schedule on and what, if any, computer formulas are used.
How do the league’s coaches feel about moving to a nine-game conference schedule? Here are some quotes:
Nick Saban, Alabama
“I’m for playing nine conference games; I was the only person that spoke out in favor of it last year.”
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
“To be honest with you right now, I’m just focused on year by year,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got our hands full with next year and we’ll have discussions with the SEC commissioner and all that.”
Will Muschamp, Florida
“I’m not for a nine-game schedule. I don’t think it’s best for our league. It’s too challenging with the in-state rivalry we already play. You add a ninth game (in the SEC), it’s too difficult.”
Gary Pinkel, Missouri
“Most coaches like eight games,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “One of the reasons is that it’s such a tough league. It certainly has a huge effect on your four nonconference games going down to three. If you’re a coach, you recognize that.”
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
“The three of us (Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina) have a pretty tough game already. But it could go to nine. Whatever they say is fine with me.”
James Franklin, Vanderbilt
“You go to nine games, and people are gonna be less likely to play the out-of-conference games, the big games out of conference that people are playing now. Eight games allows everybody to solve their own problems, and what I mean by that is if you think you’re in a position to play for a national championship and you want to schedule a tough out-of-conference schedule for strength of schedule, then go do that.”