The momentum towards keeping one permanent cross-divisional game on the conference schedule grows. This weekend we heard from South Carolina’s president that there was a consensus towards hanging on to it, and now Greg McGarity sounds cautiously hopeful about it.
“I do feel better,” McGarity said Sunday. “The tone of the conversations that everyone had sort of gave the impression that everyone had a sense, at least the majority had a sense, of liking the rivalry game with an opponent from the opposite division. The tone led us to believe that this has a good opportunity of moving forward.”
If you assume that they keep the game and that the NCAA doesn’t change the conditions for hosting a conference championship game, that would seem to leave the SEC with three options (format in order of divisional games, rotating cross-divisional games and permanent cross-divisional game):
- Eight games (6-1-1, with home-and-home against teams in the other division). You could argue that this would be the smallest variation from the current arrangement, as the only change would be dropping one team from the other division to accommodate the added in-division game. The problem is that you’d be putting a lot of matchups on a very long rotation. Telling CBS it’ll only have a crack at a Florida-Alabama regular season game once a decade or so isn’t the best way to get it to open the checkbook. And telling the fans that they’ll have to pay a similar price to make sure there’s one more extra special cupcake game on the home schedule for which they’ll be expected to pony up for isn’t likely to go over much better.
- Eight games (6-1-1, without home-and-home against teams in the other division). I forget who tossed the idea out the other week of decoupling the rotating cross-divisional games from a home-and-home basis, but I can see the ADs gravitating towards it for one simple reason – it makes the broadcasters happier, since the frequency of the marquee cross-divisional matchups can be better managed than under a home-and-home scenario. Fans buying tickets are just as screwed, though.
- Nine games (6-2-1). From a fan standpoint it’s the most logical choice. From a broadcast standpoint, it’s the most attractive option. But the coaches dislike the added competition. And the ADs are in the middle.
As for the ninth conference game, I suspect there’s a price point where the ADs’ doubts go away and they override the coaches’ objections. The question is whether ESPN and CBS are willing to pay it. If not, that second option may start looking buttah and buttah.