Over the weekend, South Carolina president Harris Pastides started talking again. You remember Pastides. He’s the SEC president who came forward last fall and announced that:
1. The SEC would be going to a nine-game schedule.
2. The office would help provide cash for schools to buy out future nonconference opponents to make room for the extra league game.
That was a heckuva lot of detail for someone to share without having been given some indication that that indeed was the plan… or something close to it.
But the league instead announced that it would create a one-year-only, hybrid eight-game schedule for 2012. Since then, the league’s ADs have — most of them anyway — have run from the idea of a nine-game schedule like the citizens of Tokyo from Godzilla. Most want no part of such a tough slate of games — they want extra nonconference patsies to insure their bowl eligibility each year — and they want cool cash money. Even though the majority of schools only began playing up to eight home games per year in the past decade, the ADs now say they can’t afford to give up that revenue. (“Please ignore the $20 million+ we now receive from television, chuckle, chuckle.”)
Last Wednesday, the league’s athletic directors met in Nashville to discuss a new scheduling format for the SEC. They will do so again in New Orleans this week during the SEC Tournament.
Now, Pastides has opened up a bit about what was said in the Music City. He told Columbia’s The State that South Carolina will give up Arkansas as its permanent opponent in favor of Texas A&M. The reason: Missouri and Arkansas will become permanent rivals.
Oddly, Pastides used an online poll conducted by that local newspaper to help sway him to go along with the Arkansas for A&M swap. “That probably confirms the deal quite frankly,” Pastides said.
“We (the presidents) were told the athletic directors were in favor of a change for Arkansas to be Missouri’s permanent opponent and for us to get Texas A&M. I said, ‘Hold on a second. That’s a big decision, and I’d like to hear what the fans think about that.’ They were kind of motivated to get it done and move on, and I said, ‘I think it’s premature. I need to go back to Columbia and see what people think about that.’”
Gamecock fans spoke. They preferred A&M. And Pastides said the presidents will vote on the matter after the SEC tourney and not wait for this year’s SEC Meetings in Destin which — quite frankly — is a surprise to us here at MrSEC.com.
So, if we’re to trust Pastides’ information this time around, we’ve learned:
1. The ADs came to an agreement pretty quickly on how to handle the new schedule.
2. Missouri is going to gain a border rival with Arkansas but lose its recruiting foothold in Texas. This flies in the face of just about everything we’ve heard emanating from the Show-Me-State. Gary Pinkel has rebuilt the Mizzou program by establishing a recruiting pipeline into the Lone Star State. Under the new plan, he would no longer be able to tell Texas recruits on the fact that their folks could see them play in-state every other year.
3. A&M — for some reason — is viewed by South Carolina fans as a more exciting fit on their schedule than Arkansas was. “I think we can develop a wonderful rivalry with Texas A&M,” Pastides said. The two schools have never met. Columbia is 913 miles from Fayetteville. Columbia is 1,069 miles from College Station. Alright.
4. Steve Spurrier must be a happy camper. While he initially was one of the few coaches to downplay the SEC’s entry into Texas saying his program didn’t recruit there very often, he’ll now have a big advantage over his other East Division rivals who’ll want to tap into that recruiting zone. Mizzou’s loss will be Carolina’s gain as the Cocks can now tell Lone Star recruits that they’ll play in their own home state every other season.
5. Permanent rivals are here to stay, it appears. We consider this to be a plus because the SEC could not afford to give up its oldest, most historic rivalries. The SEC has gained an advantage over other leagues for two reasons — fan passion (the chicken) and fertile recruiting lands (the egg). Mega-TV deals would never have been inked had the league not already become a national leader in viewership. That fan passion is built upon traditional rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
6. Since no other ADs, presidents or chancellors are conducting fan polls, it appears that the other permanent rivals will remain untouched, leaving us with these seven yearly, cross-divisional rivalries: Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Missouri, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-LSU, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, and South Carolina-Texas A&M.
Here’s another interesting note from The State’s Josh Kendall from the same piece:
“Arkansas is on the 2012 schedule but will go off in 2013 and become one of six Western Division teams (along with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) that will rotate on and off the schedule on a yearly basis.”
On a yearly basis. Not at two-year intervals as is currently the case, but yearly. Now, did Kendall choose his words carefully there? We must assume so. Did he get that information from Pastides and is Pastides sharing good information this time around? Again, we must assume so.
If this is indeed the case, then the league will continue forward with its eight-game schedule while the rest of the world toughens their own schedules with additional guaranteed games against BCS foes. You know our feelings on that one. We believe being the only league which guarantees eight BCS foes per team per season will eventually damage the league’s reputation and, therefore, the league as a whole.
But the eight-game solution it sounds like Kendall and Pastides discussed was an option we tossed out last fall — rotating cross-divisional foes once per year, rather once per two years.
The SEC’s television partners would not want games like Alabama-Florida — for example — to be played just twice every 12 years. If the league goes to the plan discussed above, each team will face every other cross-divisional foe once every six years. That’s the takeaway. The giveaway? Six cross-divisional foes will still only visit an opposing campus once every 12 years.
Instead of — for example — LSU getting Georgia for a home game and then a road game in back to back seasons, the Tigers would host the Bulldogs one year and then visit them six years down the pike.
Well, that beats playing twice-in-a-row with 10 years in between meetings.
We reached out to SEC associate commissioner and PR guru Charles Bloom for some clarification on whether or not the ADs would be allowed to make the final call on scheduling without a last-minute push — perhaps — from Mike Slive at the league meetings in Destin. It was our belief and hope that Slive would gather the league’s presidents and once again override the SEC’s coaches and ADs (who are in many ways motivated by self-interest) in order to push the greater good of a nine-game schedule for the entire conference.
Here’s what Bloom had to say regarding Slive and the presidents getting involved in Destin:
“The SEC Presidents and Chancellors work hand-in-hand with our athletic directors with respect to athletic policy and competitive questions.”
Our take on that: The heads of state are being kept abreast of the situation by their ADs. The coaches have their ADs’ ears. The ADs have their presidents’ ears. And Slive appears to be A-OK with his league sticking with whatever eight-game system his ADs design and his presidents support.
As for Pastides’ suggestion that a final presidential vote will be held soon after the SEC tourney, we asked Bloom today if a completed schedule might be revealed pre-Destin:
“Depends on what you mean by completed schedule… entire 2012 schedule, 2013 and beyond? There is no formal timeline for a format announcement, so I cannot tell you a date on that.”
Obviously, the 2012 schedule has already been announced. (Bloom — it should be noted — told us just weeks before that schedule was announced that the SEC typically did not release its full schedule until the spring. He’s a PR guy and while we appreciate his answers, his comments — at least to this site — are usually as vague as can be.)
All that said, if Pastides is to be believed, here’s our take on things:
1. The SEC will stick with an eight-game schedule and continue to use one permanent cross-divisional rival per school.
2. The league will lessen the impact of that eight-game decision for the TV networks by rotating cross-divisional foes on and off schools’ schedules every year instead of every other year. That means your team will play each cross-divisional foe once every six years, but you’ll have them come to town — or visit them — in every 12 year rotation.
3. It appears that the SEC’s ADs will be allowed to make the final call on this matter with a rubber stamp vote from their presidents and Commissioner Slive. That was not the case on the oversigning issue or the multi-year scholarship issue. If Pastides is correct, CBS, ESPN and Slive will not step-in at Destin and cajole the league into adopting a nine-game league schedule.
We wonder if the SEC would have expanded to 12 teams, to an eight-game league schedule, and added an SEC Championship Game back in 1992 if Roy Kramer had simply turned things over to the league’s athletic directors.
4. Those cheering a four nonconference-game schedule — which conceivably allows schools to continue to play “name” opponents on occasion — might not be cheering if the heads of state in college football decide to up the bowl eligibility requirement from six wins to seven, as has been discussed. Then you’ll keep your eight league games and get a heavier dose of creampuffs, cupcakes and other assorted pastries on your school’s home slate. Oh, and you’ll also get the joy of paying full price for tickets to watch those games.
5. The ACC will use a nine-game schedule when it expands. The Big 12 is currently using a nine-game plan. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have agreed to a yearly team-versus-team scheduling plan that guarantees teams in both leagues will face at least nine BCS foes per season and in some cases 10.
Eventually, the SEC’s detractors — and they are legion at this point — will use this against the league when it comes to polling. The polls have been good to the SEC since Kramer and the league’s presidents 20 years ago made it the toughest conference in America to win by adding more league games and a title bout.
LSU was voted into the national title game in 2007 with two losses. That had never happened before. This season, Alabama was granted a rematch with LSU in the BCS title game. That had never happened before.
This new plan — if this is the new plan — will flip the schedule argument from being a positive for the SEC to being a negative for the SEC.
Oh, sure, we know. You think that eight SEC games equal nine or 10 games in any other league. Unfortunately, most of you reading don’t have a vote in the BCS system.
And at some point, an SEC school is going to lose its shot at a national title because voters will say: “Team X played nine league games and a BCS-level nonconference opponent… Team Y from the SEC only played eight league games and one BCS-level nonconference foe. Advantage Team X with the harder schedule.”
It’s coming. And for that reason, we still believe the SEC will eventually be forced — dragging and screaming it seems — to move to a nine-game schedule at some point.