Seth Emerson catches up with Larry Templeton, the SEC’s point man on the scheduling front, to get an update on where things stand. Somewhat surprisingly, there is good news in that the conference seems to have conceded that preserving the historical rivalries is a primary goal.
“I would say that the permanent games are probably as safe as anything that’s on the table,” Templeton said. “I think there is a strong commitment to keep the traditional games in this league. And to do that you have to keep the permanent opponents.”
Whether that’s in response to fans objecting, the network partners pointing out that part of what sells the SEC is tradition, a genuine sense of appreciation for the conference’s history by its presidents (yeah, right) or something else, I can’t say, but I’m grateful nonetheless. Of course, that begs the question of what scheduling format the conference adopts with that in mind. And that’s our next surprise: evidently the nine-game schedule, contrary to what Mike Slive recently indicated, is still in play.
… Interestingly, Templeton said a nine-game schedule isn’t officially off the table yet.
“It was on the table and is still technically on the table. There have been no votes to say this won’t happen,” Templeton said. “There are some institutions that have some interest (in nine SEC games). I don’t have a feel that it’s strong enough to place in there. But I’ve been in enough A.D.’s meetings where that pendelum [sic] changes from one to the other.”
Now clearly there’s some serious bullshit being shoveled here. First of all, for Slive and Templeton to appear not to be on the same page is probably not an accident. There is some maneuvering going on, most likely over money, and the suits are trying to leave themselves some wiggle room. It’s not just about the new TV contracts, either.
… That’s not to say anyone should take away that a nine-game schedule is likely. It just hasn’t been ruled out yet. The main reservation among A.D.’s, beyond an unbalanced number of home and away games, is losing the flexibility to schedule the maximum amount of non-conference home games, or a marquee matchup like Georgia-Clemson.
“The idea of playing seven home games is important,” Templeton said. “The other thing, you go to nine games, there’s seven winners and seven losers.”
Puh-leeze. If seven winners and seven losers is that big a deal, maybe the SEC should think about going to a seven-game conference schedule, so its schools can pack in one more game against a Sun Belt opponent. And the marquee matchup talk is window dressing for the extra home cupcake games ADs like McGarity want to pack in there in the three years between those high-profile non-conference meetings.
The real issue, which Templeton buries inside the nonsense, is that seventh home game. The ADs and presidents aren’t going to give that up unless they’re convinced there’s enough money coming in on the new broadcast deals to make up the difference and then some.
And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s as simple as looking at how much more a ninth conference game will bring from CBS and ESPN. As Emerson points out, there’s an eight-game format that looks pretty good to the conference.
… So with an eight-game schedule still likely, how will it work? The committee is down to two or three formats. One of them, which has the most traction, is a 6-1-1- format (six division games, one cross-division rivalry, and one floating non-division game) where a home-and-home series doesn’t have to happen in consecutive years. For instance, if Georgia goes to Alabama in 2013 then Alabama doesn’t have to come back to Georgia in 2014…
That’s attractive to the ADs, because they keep that seventh home game in play. It’s attractive to the networks, because it means the marquee games that aren’t locked in cross-division rivalries will rotate onto the schedule as often as they have before. As for the fans… hey, you got the rivalries saved, didn’t you? That half a loaf will have to suffice, people, ’cause that’s probably all we’re getting for now.
One possible fly in the ointment for the conference if it sticks with an eight-game schedule is how that may impact the SEC’s chances with the next version of the BCS, should strength of schedule come into play as a factor in how the postseason field is selected. With conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 going to nine-game conference schedules (and the Big XII already being there), the SEC is going to find itself at a potential disadvantage if its schools play one more cupcake game than is played in rival conferences. (Ironically, a conference-champs only format for a D-1 playoff, which Slive opposes, ameliorates that problem.)
If I had to bet on the outcome, I’d go with the 6-1-1, non-home and home arrangement in the short run, with the conference keeping an eye on its impact on the national title front. Look to see if Slive negotiates a back door in the new TV deals allowing the conference to reopen things if it elects to go to a nine-game arrangement down the road. Hopefully he’ll do a better job on revisiting the broadcast contract arrangements than he did last time, seeing as that’s how the SEC has gotten into its current scheduling mess in the first place.