The Pac-10 is playing nine conference games per season. Ditto the Big 12 this year. The Big Ten will do the same beginning in 2017. And according to this report, the post-expansion ACC will likely be a nine-game league, too. (Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver would actually like to see a 10-game in-conference schedule.)
If the Big 12 sticks with a nine-game plan, that would leave four of the current six BCS conferences with nine-game conference schedules, one — the Big East — on life support, and the SEC all by its lonesome with an eight-game schedule. So would the SEC stand pat?
League coaches would campaign for the status quo. When the league went from six to seven to eight SEC games per year, coaches moaned. When the SEC Championship Game was added, coaches moaned. In a league as tough as the SEC — they claimed — no one could win a national title when having to play so many conference rivals.
We know now that that was faulty thinking. The SEC has won more titles post-expansion than it had in the 20 years prior to expansion (and the championship game and the eight-game schedule).
The SEC has been given the benefit of the doubt by pollsters time and again because of its perceived mini-NFL toughness. Florida was pushed into the BCS title game over Michigan at the end of the 2006 season. LSU landed in the BCS title game with two losses in 2007.
If history is a guide, a nine-game schedule would be unlikely to hurt the SEC in its pursuit of national crowns. And it may save one of the league’s biggest rivalries as well.
If Missouri eventually joins the SEC, it’s believed by most that Auburn will shift from the West Division to the East Division. AU president Jay Gogue has even okay’d just a move publicly.
If moved, the Tigers would then become the permanent protected rival of Alabama. Currently, Alabama’s protected rival is Tennessee. If Auburn moves and an eight-game schedule is kept, the Third Saturday in October game could lose its annual slot on the schedule.
Alabama and Tennessee are one-two on the SEC’s all-time standings board. They have won more league crowns than any other programs (Tide 22, Vols 13). For a league located in a region that takes its history and traditions just a shade more than seriously, it’s hard to imagine the SEC allowing a classic rivalry like Alabama-Tennessee to go by the wayside.
Especially if the solution is a nine-game league schedule. A nine-game league schedule that every other major conference might wind up using.