Six months ago, every major football conference in the country was going to a schedule that would include at least nine games against BCS-level foes. Only the SEC was planning — short-term anyway — to stick with an eight-game conference slate.
But then the Big Ten pulled out of its deal with the Pac-12 and decided to stick with an eight-game league schedule while also trying to get its teams to beef up their nonconference schedules on their own. The reason is strength of schedule, which will play some sort of role in the selection of the four semifinal teams in college football’s new playoff which will begin in 2014. Yesterday, ESPN reported that the ACC has also decided — after adding Notre Dame — that scheduling would be easier with an eight-game format.
That might be good news for the SEC and here’s why. We’ve said three things here over the past few months:
1. If all the other major conferences are playing more games against big-name foes than SEC teams do, the anti-SEC bias of some on a selection committee could/would use that against the league to make sure Mike Slive’s league would not get two teams in a playoff.
2. If a selection committee didn’t force the SEC’s hand, ESPN might. When the SEC Network launches in late-summer 2014, you can bet more subscribers will demand access if the games being shown are Auburn-Florida or Georgia-Texas A&M rather than LSU-Idaho or Tennessee-Akron.
3. If SEC schools want fans to fill up stadiums again (and we’re talking turnstile attendance, not tickets sold), they need to book better nonconference foes. The SEC’s early season slate has been peppered with FCS opponents and traditional patsies. Yes, all leagues do this to an extent, but you won’t find many schools with non-league schedules like this: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, and MTSU. Mississippi State fans will tell you that they sold out all its home games, but it must be noted that MSU also plays in a stadium that seats about half as many people (55,000) as several SEC stadiums.
As far as Point #1 is concerned, the decisions of the Big Ten and ACC will definitely help the SEC in terms of fending off anti-SEC bias. A Jim Delany-type on the new selection panel won’t be able to say, “Yeah, but the SEC plays fewer big-time foes” if his league isn’t booked for more big games, either. (For those who say teams in the running for the national crown will have scheduled wisely anyway, you’re ignoring the surprise team — like Auburn in 2004 — whose weak nonconference schedule was used against it at BCS selection time.)
Regarding Point #2, well, that’s where this all gets very interesting. In the past three weeks, this writer has personally communicated with representatives from two different SEC athletic departments as well as someone in the SEC office who told me that a nine-game schedule was back on the table… thanks to the aforementioned SEC Network. One source claimed that the reason the league hasn’t announced its new schedule rotation yet is because a nine-game format remains a possibility. If that’s indeed the case — and we have no reason to doubt three different sources from three different places — will the ACC’s decision impact the SEC’s at all? Or will it all just come down to ESPN and television dollars?
As for Point #3, whether the SEC goes to a nine-game schedule or sticks with an eight-game schedule, the league’s teams need to start scheduling better. Kudos to Alabama for playing Michigan, Auburn playing Clemson and Tennessee playing NC State in made-for-TV neutral-site games this season. Alabama will face Virginia Tech in Atlanta, LSU will play TCU in Arlington, and Mississippi State will open with Oklahoma State in Houston next year, too. More kudos.
But as a fan don’t you want more? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe most fans are happy to pay $50-100 to watch their local team face three cupcakes (or four, depending on the school) in a given season. I’d like to think not.
And for all the boasting we do Down South, what’s wrong with playing 10 good games a year instead of nine or eight? (Ten meaning nine league games and one solid nonconference contest.)
We at MrSEC.com are still hoping for nine games. We still believe nine games will happen. We were surprised to learn that nine games might be closer to becoming a reality than we had thought. But we didn’t expect the ACC to backtrack.
And now we wonder what ESPN executives are whispering in Slive’s ear.
UPDATE – Ohio State announced a series with TCU today and athletic director Gene Smith said starting in 2018 the Buckeyes’ goal “is BCS only… We are looking at top-ranked teams, 1-50 teams.” Now, I’m no Ohio State fan but I’ll surely applaud that move. That beats the heck out of playing four creampuffs each season and here’s hoping many/all SEC programs take the same approach to future scheduling.