Monday, August 15, 2022

SEC Media Days 2022: Commissioner outlines scheduling discussions with impending arrival of Texas, Oklahoma

The SEC is in continued discussions over eliminating divisions and settling on a scheduling model by the time Texas and Oklahoma join the league by 2025, commissioner Greg Sankey said during his opening press conference at SEC Media Days. The conference remains split on a pair of models that would include either eight or nine conference games. 

“We have to dig a bit deeper there with the single division concept in front of us,” Sankey said. “We want to understand the impact through the use of analytics on bowl eligibility for our teams who are growing their programs, and College Football Playoff access dependent on the number of teams that may be included. There are a range of possibilities being considered.” 

The two most common scheduling models discussed have been an eight-game schedule with one permanent opponent and a nine-game schedule with three permanent opponents. In a league with numerous historic rivalries, having three permanent opponents could be attractive. Texas, for example, has historic rivalries with Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Alabama has both Auburn and Tennessee as traditional rivals. Those lists would be whittled to one in an eight-game schedule. 

As the league becomes stronger with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, however, leaving the door open for winnable nonconference games may become more attractive for the league’s lower class. For a school like South Carolina, which already plays Clemson as a nonconference opponent, playing 10 Power Five games in a 12-game season may prove a Herculean task. Eight games could be more attractive.

“When I go through six different teams having won national championships in the last 25 years or so, no one comes close to that number,” Sankey said. “So the level of competition here, while people want to be a part of it, we’re attentive and sensitive to that.” 

The SEC and ACC are the only two Power Five leagues to play eight conference games. However, limiting the number of conference games has been a huge advantage for the SEC’s middle class. Thirteen of the league’s 14 teams earned a bowl trip in 2021. Florida, in fact, reached the postseason despite going 2-6 in conference play. 

Regardless, there will be a renewed focus on trying to play a schedule that looks like one unified conference. Texas A&M, notably, did not play Georgia until seven years in the league. The Aggies to date have still never hosted the Bulldogs. The current schedule setup allows up to 12 years between cross-divisional opponents. Any model will try to get rid of that lag. 

The SEC has played in a divisional structure since South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league in 1992, and it has fielded eight conference games every year since. In recent years, every SEC squad has been asked to play a Power Five nonconference game, though schools like South Carolina (Clemson) and Georgia (Georgia Tech) previously had long standing inter-conference rivalry games. 

In addition to permanent opponents, creating equitable tiebreaker rules in a 16-team league remains a top priority. With 16 teams, conference championships – and perhaps College Football Playoff berths – could be decided by conference bylaws. 

“We have over a quarter century in division and we understand all the nuances about how to break ties,” Sankey said. “

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