It’s been three decades since the SEC added another game to its football schedule. At the time, with the expansion to twelve teams, it was seven to eight games, and Commissioner Roy Kramer often tells how many football coaches were against doing it: “All of them.”
There is more support this time around as the SEC gets closer to agreeing on a nine-game schedule. Nick Saban, in fact, wouldn’t mind playing 10. Or all of them. But the details are getting in the way now, like he told SI.com this week:
“They give us Tennessee State and Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they got there… We have three teams and two of them are in the top 10 and one is in the top 10 a lot.”
Some things to unpack here.
First, Saban makes some news by revealing that LSU will be Alabama’s third annual opponent. Auburn and Tennessee were clear, and LSU makes sense in terms of the latter rivalry, but Mississippi State is closer (about 90 minutes to the west) and a long drawn out game. Maybe Saban is working on umpires, trying to demote third-team LSU to Mississippi State, or maybe Sewanee. Or, more likely, Saban doesn’t have as much power with the SEC office as people think, that’s basically a done deal and he’s just venting.
SEC Mailbag: What delays schedules, what’s the value of a 9-game setup?
Then, Saban’s comments are the ultimate compliment to Tennessee, which now appears to be firmly back in national relevance after one very good year. Or maybe we need to see. This just goes to show how careful everyone needs to be about judging table format over the quality of opponents: it can be quite cyclical. History, tradition, and geography are safer criteria to rely on.
In addition, the SEC can reconsider the three dissenters after a four-year cycle. Hence the need to stop calling them “permanent” opponents. Nothing in the SEC is permanent, other than fans knowing their team is the only one that doesn’t cheat, and coaches complaining about schedules.
Finally – and this is coming from someone who has spent far too long thinking about static opponents – it’s a bit of an overkill exercise. Fun to talk about. But in the end, Saban is basically the same boat as all of his coaches: A nine-game schedule and format change would be great for the SEC, good for college football, and make life more difficult for coaches.
Start with the current standard bearer: Georgia, a two-time defending national champion, on paper The easiest schedule in college football history This last season with divisions. Starting in 2024, the road is getting tougher. No more annual games against Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Kentucky, and no longer playing six of eight games each year against what has been the weakest division for most of the past ten to fifteen years. This is not to say that Georgia’s success is a product of that schedule, otherwise it would have been revealed in the postseason. (Kirby Smart is 5-1 in College Football Playoff games, and that was it beautiful Close.) But Georgia also clearly had an easier path to the SEC Championship, and now it’s going to face all those tougher teams from the West at least twice every four years.
What could be the SEC schedule format, opponent structure with Oklahoma, Texas?
This point is key for everyone. As much kvetching as it is with the three fixed opponents, in this format everyone will play the rest of the conference at least twice every four years. Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, and others, will see each other about once every two years, in essence. Everyone will have to play for LSU in Death Valley once every four years. But LSU will also have to go to Sanford Stadium, Neyland Stadium, and the Swamp, as well as visit the nice folks of Austin and Norman, at least once in a US presidency. Top tier teams will not be strangers to each other and will probably spend a lot of time beating each other.
Not that the rest of the conference comes out easy. Not many of them wanted to go up from eight games in the first place, and Kentucky was the most vocal. A good compromise might be that in exchange for going nine, those schools pull each other out between established opponents. Perhaps this would happen with Mississippi State not making Alabama an opponent, assuming that would hold.
It would work for TV, especially if the SEC, in an effort to get ESPN to contract more in a modified contract, could offer annual Alabama-LSU, Oklahoma-Florida, etc. matchups. done for tv. This is what pays a lot of the bills.
But this is also done for the sake of the fans. truly. After many years of hanging on to the old concept of divisions, the SEC (like most conferences) is dumping them until the schedules improve. Better yet, it means harder, just in time for the expanded CFP to provide some margin of error.
Good for the fans, good for the conference, not so good for the coaches. But they will live.
The SEC should respect tradition but prioritize blockbuster games in a new schedule with OU, Texas
(Top photo: Donald Page/Getty Images)
“Introvert. Subtly charming web geek. Lifelong entrepreneur. Amateur social media expert. Coffee trailblazer.”