Tonight the SEC announced its format for future schedules beginning in the 2016 season — essentially, nothing is changing. The league stuck with an eight game schedule played under the current the 6-1-1 format, preserving permanent yearly rivals and rotating just one new opponent every year. Alabama will play Tennessee, Georgia will Play Auburn, Florida will play LSU, Arkansas will play Missouri, South Carolina will play Texas A&M, Vanderbilt will play Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play Kentucky.
The league also mandated that beginning in 2016 schools play at least one opponent from the Big Ten, Pac 12, ACC, or Big 12. (Notre Dame also counts).
Of course, most schools are already doing this in their out of conference schedule. Ten of the fourteen SEC schools will be doing it this year — and Ole Miss is playing Boise State in a neutral site game, which should honestly count considering Boise is better than at least half the teams in the major conferences — and last season 11 of the 14 schools did it. (Thirteen if you count Arkansas’s game against Rutgers, which was scheduled before the Big East died, and Kentucky’s game against Louisville, which is now in the ACC. Rutgers is of course, stop laughing, in the Big Ten as of this year.) The only SEC school that didn’t play a big four opponent last year was Texas A&M. (For their part the Aggies have already remedied this out-of-conference schedule issue by booking Arizona State and a home-and-home with UCLA from 2015-2017.) In fact several schools, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, played two games against major conference foes last year.
Indeed, last year SEC schools played out-of-conference regular season games against Florida State, Miami, Clemson (twice), Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, North Carolina, Central Florida (a top ten team), Oregon, Washington State, Rutgers, Indiana, and Louisville.
In 2014 the conference is scheduled to play regular season out-of-conference games against Florida State, Clemson (twice), Georgia Tech, Louisville, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Kansas State.
So while this new out-of-conference scheduling requirement will garner quite a bit of national attention, it was already happening.
Considering that Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina already play Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, and Clemson, those four schools are compliant without needing to do anything to their schedules.
So why did this scheduling decision happen?
It’s politics, stupid.
The only coach to ever come out in favor of nine conference games was Alabama’s Nick Saban. Everyone else consistently opposed it. So in order to play nine games you were going to need a majority of SEC athletic directors and presidents to defy the wishes of their head coaches and okay, stop laughing, this was never happening. Nine games was dead for a long time. Add in the fact that nine conference games actually cuts out seven football games a year — a big deal with the new SEC Network — so that going to nine games would be likely to actually cost the league money as well as make major out-of-conference games much less likely to happen.
So nine games wasn’t happening.
Then the big debate became this — what will the eight game SEC schedule look like?
There were three real options:
1. Keep the schedule at 6-1-1, preserving the existing rivals while adding one new opponent a year.
2. Set up a hybrid model that maintains the Tennessee-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia yearly rival game while allowing the other ten schools to rotate more frequently.
3. Abandon the permanant rivals and set up a 6-2 format, with two new games against cross-division foes every year.
If I was voting solely in the interests of the league, I would have voted for the hybrid model. That way you would have preserved the rivalry games but kept the rest of the league from playing yearly games that no one really cares about.
But, guess what, no one votes in the best interests of the league when it hurts their own self-interest.
Welcome to politics 101.
We all know that Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia want to preserve their rivalries. So that’s four votes for the status quo. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky would all rather play each other than potentially draw a more difficult opponent on the round-robin schedule. So that essentially put the votes in favor of the status quo at eight, enough to carry the day.
We know that LSU was in favor of the six -two format. Three other teams were with them. The final vote finished 10-4 in favor of the status quo, but I’m told that none of the four votes against the status quo were from paired teams. So I’m curious who these four teams actually were.
And when you really get down to it, why would you change anything when you’re dominating like the SEC is dominating? Especially now that four teams are making the playoff. The SEC is going to have a very good shot at getting two teams every year.