We have all grown accustomed to the current scheduling model within the SEC, basing it on a rotating opponent out of each division on a yearly basis, while keep one permanent rival. Well, things are about to change in the future regarding how the conference goes about scheduling opponents yearly.
The day Texas and Oklahoma were voted into the conference, a pod model was thrown around as the possible scenario of how the conference would attack the scheduling aspect of this move. It’s not a secret that athletic directors have been looking for a change in the current format, especially since we aren’t getting enough consistent matchups within the current landscape. But that looks to be coming to an end in the future. As the conference heads to Destin next week for spring meetings, it sounds as though we are down to two different scheduling concepts to be voted on, according to Sports Illustrated.
The two options that are currently on the table for debate have SEC teams playing an eight-game format, which would lead to one permanent rival, followed by seven different rotating games. Now, this would lead to a bit of uproar from most fan bases, most certainly if they takeaway a game against a yearly rival. Take for instance Tennessee, who plays Alabama, Florida and Georgia on a yearly basis. If you switch to the eight-game model, there is a good chance that the Vols would only play Alabama on a yearly basis, rotating Georgia and Florida in different years. The thought of losing the hated rivalry between the Gators and Vols wouldn’t sit well with the fans, even though Florida has had a leg-up for years. Still, moving away from these two teams playing every season would damper the excitement of at least one fan base.
The same could be said for a team like Auburn, who plays Georgia and Alabama every season, usually on the back-end of the schedule. The most likely scenario for Auburn, would see the Iron Bowl continue on and Georgia get in the rotation, which feels weird just writing this out. But this is how the eight-game model would present itself.
If you really wanted to spice things up, the SEC Network should put on a show like the World Cup Draw show every four years. Have Commissioner Greg Sankey stand on a stage and take out ping-pong balls that are filled with a team name and announce them to the crowd, declaring which teams would fill out a schedule. You could put on the event in the summer and have fans travel in for the weekend, making it a must see event. Each team wouldn’t know their schedule for the next season until the event, or you could make it for the following season. Either way, it would draw eyes and allow the SEC to take the primetime stage of College Football.
It’s theater, which the conference enjoys anyways, so make it a grand event.
The second model that will be presented in Destin is the nine-game format, which has been discussed for a number of years by different coaches. Each team will get three permanent opponents and six teams that are rotated on a yearly basis. I spoke with an SEC athletic director this week who is adamant on playing the nine-game format, noting how it would benefit the current rivalries within the conference, especially with his school.
“The opportunity to play some of our biggest rivals on a yearly basis shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of this discussion. If we start taking away some of the constant opponents that make up our schedule, the fan bases would surely be disappointed. But I am worried about selling tickets, appeasing our fanbase and creating additional revenue for our school, so if we had the opportunity to keep a few of our premier games, maybe we could get two out of three. There are certain teams in the conference that haven’t visited our home stadium in a while, or ever, so we need to fix that in the process as well.”
I don’t disagree with this take, only because there are certain games in the schedule of every SEC team that deserve to played on a yearly basis. Not every team has three constant rivalry games, but most do. So, moving to the eight-game format would take away from some of the best matchups we see on a yearly basis, at least from a fan base standpoint.
The bigger question centers around how this will play out once Texas and Oklahoma join the conference, which will be discussed in Destin. Planning ahead is the top priority right now for the SEC, most certainly with the College Football Playoff contract coming to an end after the Championship game in 2026. How we get to the point of deciding a conference schedule in the future will be interesting to watch unfold, which will include significant conversations on how to maximize the new television contract that begins in 2024.
We will most certainly see Texas and Texas A&M square-off in the next eight years. They will not be able to run from each other much longer, thank goodness. But as we get closer to the changing of the guard in terms on conference scheduling, remember that every school has an agenda and a reasoning for the argument. Whether that be ticket sales or preserving rivalry games, these conference officials have a lot to discuss over the next few months.
If we’re going off history, I’d expect the SEC to stay ahead of the other conferences, if only to show how much bigger they can make the weekends in the South.
Also, we should most certainly explore my idea of bringing the World Cup Draw format of scheduling to the SEC. Only because it just means more.