SEC Retains Eight-Game Schedule
After much consternation and hand-wringing, the SEC has decided to maintain an eight-game conference schedule and add a mandated non-conference contest against a power-conference foe starting in 2016.
Conferences like the Big 12 have moved to a nine-game schedule as all the major schools comply with the need to place greater emphasis on strength of schedule under the umbrella of the new College Football Playoff.
The SEC decided to prioritize tradition, leaving intact traditional cross-division annual rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia. The move also secures the continuation of some major non-conference rivalries like Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson.
"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. "Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents."
With the mandate that each team has to play at least one game per season against a team from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12, the SEC has found an alternative way to ensure a strong strength of schedule. While teams like Alabama annually play a power-conference team at the beginning of the year, some of the "SEC bias" criticism stems from the lack of premiere out-of-conference matchups.
Not every school is a fan of a locked-in rivalry with an SEC team from the other division.
"I'm disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn't understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Sunday. "I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally but we don't share our opponents equally.
"Since 2000 LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples."
It's hard to picture many athletic directors from other power conferences saying no to inquiries from SEC schools given the emphasis on strength of schedule as well as the SEC's name value for conference TV networks currently established in the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
The ACC, reports have said, wanted to wait for the SEC to decide on an eight- or nine-game schedule. Although the conference has not made a formal announcement, many expect the conference to emulate the SEC, which means keeping an eight-game schedule and perhaps instituting an ACC Network controlled by ESPN.