There’s an interesting item from Marc Weiszer in which Mark Richt touches on both sides of the debate over adding a ninth conference game.
At the macro level, the money says to go to nine games. The fans want it, and the TV contracts will demand it. The payouts will more than make up for any home games lost. Richt realizes this and admits, “If we go to 16, I can’t imagine us not going to less than nine games. I think we would have to go nine.”
But there are incentives at the individual level, too. Richt is a coach who gets to keep his job by winning games. His incentives reward wins and titles, not impressive schedules. He’s likely to resist things that make his job tougher, so it’s reasonable that he resists supporting an additional conference game.
I voted against it because if we have nine, plus Tech and then if we want to do something like Clemson like we did this year, you’re talking about 11 out of 12 games that are pretty stout.
We know that even the head coach answers to someone, and the larger interest will eventually win out. The coaches will come along reluctantly. Still, some of those same incentives that govern Richt matter for the school. More wins mean better bowls, larger payouts, and happier fans who donate more money. How do you get there while taking on an additional conference game? Your conference schedule might be set, but you still have three games with which to play. As Richt noted, an out-of-conference rivalry game leaves you with little flexibility.
Unfortunately I expect that it will come at the cost of aggressive nonconference scheduling. There is little incentive to play anyone of note in those remaining games because an SEC team is still going to end up with a respectable strength of schedule, especially with an additional conference game. There are a few things that could make teams go against their best interests in scheduling those remaining games:
- Rules: The Big Ten is doing away with games against FCS teams. Similar steps by other conferences or even at the NCAA level would affect scheduling (or cause a rush by under-qualified FCS schools to join the FBS.)
- TV Money: Networks, who are now in partnership with several conferences, will put a lot of pressure on schools to schedule games that provide attractive matchups for programming.
- Neutral site games: Did you notice the price of Georgia-Florida tickets this year? They’re not done rising. Neutral site games are money-making machines for top-level teams.
- Ego: Remember who the decision-makers are. As silly as it is to attach notions of manhood to schedules perceived as weak, it works.
Is the Tech game untouchable in the world of nine conference games? I’d like to think so, but let’s ask the Aggies and Longhorns. If it came down to it with nine conference games, would you prefer to keep the Tech series so that interesting nonconference games are less frequent, or would you rather drop the series if it meant a larger variety of quality opponents?