Kyle King takes issue with my post from the other day expressing frustration with the SEC’s apparent reluctance to consider moving to a nine-game conference slate in the wake of its recent expansion to fourteen members.
Now Kyle has a serious jonesing for the Georgia-Clemson series, so there’s certainly a level on which I can appreciate his position. (I wonder what Kyle would advocate if the conference played a cosmic joke on him and admitted Clemson to the SEC West.) But I think the historical argument he makes falls flat.
… Besides, since when is “preserv[ing] a passing familiarity between schools in opposing divisions” the historical norm in the league? When the SEC last expanded in 1992, each team had only one game per autumn against a rotating opponent from the other division, though this was changed after a few years, much as the current arrangement is apt to be. The heritage of the conference, moreover, has been one that featured infrequent meetings between schools that were not natural rivals with one another. In the 59 seasons between 1933, the year the league was founded, and 1991, the final year prior to the advent of divisional play, Georgia met the LSU Tigers 19 times, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs 16 times, and the Tennessee Volunteers ten times. Frequent face-offs against unfamiliar teams simply are not among the SEC’s defining traditions.
The problem with this “historical norm” is that it’s based on a conference array that hasn’t existed for twenty years. Prior to ’92, the SEC was a 10-team conference without divisions. It’s a different looking beast now. It’s also worth noting that the regular season has lengthened over the time he references. For much of that, college teams only played a ten-game season. The slate increased to eleven. Starting next year, twelve teams will play twelve games and two will play thirteen. A longer overall schedule would seem to argue for an increase in conference play simply to keep up.
Kyle lauds McGarity’s business prudence, but I find it short-sighted. The SEC has a brand that’s incredibly strong. That’s already being diluted with the admission of two new members (something that time should fix, of course). It shouldn’t be put further at risk by limiting the conference match ups that most fans crave. Kyle’s bug here – playing West foes like LSU and Alabama – is most certainly my feature. And the concern about money that would have to be paid out to cancel contracts with West Cupcake A&M is overblown. A ninth conference game is valuable product that the SEC could offer to its broadcast partners and the increase in broadcast revenue should offset the penalty clause payments McGarity is reluctant to tender.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years, particularly with regard as to whether conference schools continue to line up weak OOC games past the 2016 season that McGarity cites. That’s going to be a reflection of who winds up winning the fight between keeping the number of likely wins constant (the coaches) and the people watching the money flows (ADs and presidents). Um… what about the fans, you ask? You’re such a kidder.