SEC Sticking With 8-Game Schedule Is No Mistake
In a move being criticized across college football, the Southeastern Conference tried to mix the old with something new earlier this week.
Reactions have been mixed, at best.
The SEC decided to stick with an eight-game conference schedule, but also elected to establish permanent crossover rivalries between teams from the East and West divisions along with requiring each team to play one non-conference game against a power conference program.
According to ESPN's Kevin Gemmell, the coaches of the Pac-12 were critical of the decision, saying it gives the SEC an unfair advantage when it comes to the College Football Playoff:
"I've been saying this for three years now: I think if we're going to go into a playoff and feed into one playoff system, we all need to play by the same rules," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team has played in four straight BCS bowl games, including three in his tenure. "Play your conference. Don't back down from playing your own conference. It's one thing to back down from playing somebody else. But don't back down from playing your own conference."
There are many who will argue that playing an eight-game schedule in the SEC is much tougher than a team playing a nine-game schedule in its own conference, and it's true. Week in and week out, SEC teams are tested by everyone. When looking at the conference as a whole, the SEC is still a lot stronger at the top and in the middle than every other conference.
Of course there will be those who talk about Oklahoma beating Alabama last season in the Sugar Bowl and Florida State beating Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. But let's look at what history shows us.
The SEC consistently has multiple teams in the national title picture. And it's not always the same teams. It seems Alabama is there every year, but within the last three years, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Auburn and Texas A&M have all been a part of the title picture.
The Big Ten has Ohio State as its only true contender every year, while the Big 12 has Oklahoma consistently in the picture. Michigan State, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State also have made appearances. As for the ACC, Florida State's run last year was big and Clemson seems to always be on the doorstep, but after that, there's nobody. The Pac-12 has Oregon and Stanford there on a consistent basis, but there hasn't been much to get excited about when it comes to the rest of the conference.
I point this out because each week in the SEC is a big game where no favorite is safe.
Most other conferences only have two to four highlighted matchups each season. In the ACC, it's Florida State-Miami and Florida State-Clemson. In the Big 12, it's Texas-Oklahoma and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. In the Big Ten, it's Michigan-Ohio State, Ohio State-Michigan State and Michigan State-Wisconsin. In the Pac-12, it's UCLA-USC and Stanford-Oregon.
However, in the SEC, there is a long list of games that are huge every season. From Alabama-Auburn, Alabama-LSU, Alabama-Texas A&M, Florida-Georgia, Georgia-Auburn, LSU-Texas A&M, Tennessee-Florida, Tennessee-Georgia and more, every week presents a new challenge for every team.
So what if Georgia only plays eight conference games? The Bulldogs play Clemson and Georgia Tech in two of their four remaining games. Likewise, Alabama has usually made it tough on itself, scheduling Michigan last year and facing West Virginia this year.
There is no perfect way to go about trying to institute fairness across the board. While the SEC is only playing an eight-game schedule, its teams traditionally are of higher quality than most other conferences. There will be years like 2013 in which the SEC takes a step back, but how often have we seen that in the past decade?
Outside of Kentucky and Arkansas, there are no real easy outs for the top teams in the SEC. No other conference can claim that in Division I play around the country.