The SEC decided over the weekend that it will maintain its eight-game football schedule while adding a requirement that each team add an opponent from another BCS conference each season. The 8+1 model still leaves three games for each school to schedule as it pleases.
The requirement to play a power conference opponent just codifies what’s already happening. Four schools (Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky) have permanent opponents from the ACC. Most everyone else has played a BCS conference opponent recently, and they’ll just have to make arrangements for it to happen every year. Yes, teams will be tempted to look towards the bottom of those other conferences for opponents, but last season’s Mississippi State trip to Oklahoma State is a nice example of what else might be possible. Only four SEC schools don’t have a qualifying opponent in 2014, so the SEC is getting a nice PR boost for essentially maintaining the status quo.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler unfortunately criticizes the SEC vote as a threat to quality scheduling. While there are some good reasons for considering a ninth SEC game, strength of schedule metrics really aren’t among them. SEC programs consistently have some of the nation’s toughest schedules. Six of the top 7 SEC teams had schedules among Sagarin’s top 25. As @CFBMatrix put it,
The @SEC thinking it needs a better SOS is like a guy moving from Phoenix to Tuscon because he thinks he needs more sun
— Dave Bartoo (@CFBMatrix) April 28, 2014
Even if schedule strength were a concern, it would have been foolish to commit to a much more aggressive approach before we have some idea of how much it will matter to the selection committee.
Who is happiest with the plan?
Winners: Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee. The magnitude of these two historic rivalries was enough to steer the scheduling policy of the entire conference.
Losers: LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M. Four schools who could care less about the tradition of playing their cross-divisional permanent opponent are now locked into a fairly tough annual game.
Are the fans winners or losers? I guess it depends on your school and your priorities. If preserving the cross-divisional opponent mattered, you’re happy. If you wanted more variety among the teams you’d see from the other division (i.e., more frequent trips to Baton Rouge), you’re disappointed. If your school already has a nonconference rivalry game, you’re ambivalent. If your school doesn’t often schedule games against power conference opponents, you’ll get them. Most power conference teams will require a home-and-home, so get ready to travel.
Georgia fans will likely have mixed feelings about the plan. It’s certainly a positive to keep the Auburn rivalry. It’s a trade-off that we won’t see the other schools from the West as often. While the nonconference schedule will occasionally go soft as it will in 2015, the eight-game SEC schedule gives Georgia (and all SEC schools) flexibility. A ninth conference game along with Georgia Tech would almost certainly end ambitious and varied nonconference scheduling for Georgia. This plan keeps alive the possibility of a future series with Notre Dame (or Clemson or any other program.)