Not that Mike Slive particularly cares, but if he’s looking for cover on that ninth SEC game, Nick Saban’s got his back.
“I personally feel like strength of schedule is going to be a real important thing in the future,” he said. “I know there are people out there who say we have fixed opponents that are very, very good teams. Well, let’s make a deal and let’s all play 10 good games. We’ll still play Virginia Tech or Wisconsin or West Virginia or Michigan or one of these teams in the first game of the year and go play nine conference games too.
“I think all those things make your team better and it’s really better for the fans. I think we should spend a lot more time thinking about the people that support and make college football what it is.”
(You know what gets me about that comment? I actually believe Nick Saban is sincere there. Given all the garbage lip service we usually get from the higher-ups about concern for the fans – other than keeping our wallets open, that is – I appreciate that. But I digress.)
Judging from this article, I don’t get the impression SEC coaches are presenting a unified front on the subject, anyway. In the end, there are two things driving Slive’s decisions and neither involve Saban and his peers.
One is how the new postseason shakes out, or, more specifically, whether Saban is correct about how important strength of schedule turns out to be in the selection committee’s eyes. The thing is, as Stanford’s head coach points out, there are a lot of moving parts in play.
“Who’s going to be on the selection committee?” Shaw asked. “And what are they going to put importance on? Are they going to ding SEC schools for not playing nine conference games? Are they going to ding them for their out-of-conference schedules? Are they going to reward teams that have tougher out-of-conference schedules? Are they going to reward teams that have conference championship games?”
All good questions, and I expect that the SEC hesitates on a scheduling decision until it gets some answers. The intriguing thing to ponder is, assuming that Saban’s right about strength of schedule, how does the SEC deal with Boom’s whining about the downside for a few schools that have to pair a nine-game conference slate with a big OOC rivalry game?
“I’m not for a nine-game schedule. I don’t think it’s best for our league,” Florida’s Will Muschamp said. “It’s too challenging with the in-state rivalry we already play. You add a ninth game (in the SEC), it’s too difficult.”
Saban’s suggestion that every team in the conference limit itself to two cupcake games a season would balance the scales – not to mention that it would be awesome from a fan standpoint – but you wonder how easy it would be to carry out. It would take some really judicious scheduling to make sure SEC schools had a satisfactory number of home games every year, because the net effect of such a policy would be to switch two games to home-and-away on a permanent basis. And judicious scheduling hasn’t been the SEC’s strong suit lately.
But that’s only part of the picture. The other big issue Slive has to grapple with is programming for the new SEC Network. And that, too, is going to involve some judicious scheduling.
Look for some scheduling adjustments in football. With the need for four quality games for TV (one on CBS and three on ESPN), the SEC can’t afford to have a weak Saturday like Nov. 17 last year, when the top games were LSU-Ole Miss, Arkansas-Mississippi State and Vanderbilt-Tennessee.
To do that with the current schedule format… well, that’s going to be complicated, both in terms of spacing and in having quality product. How many must-see games can the SEC produce in a year? I suspect Les Miles, for one, won’t be very happy with what the conference comes up with in response to that. The reality is that a nine-game schedule makes the task much, much easier.
The move may be inevitable, as many insist, but the timing is uncertain. In the end, don’t expect Slive to do anything until he’s fairly certain he’s maximizing the revenue stream that the new playoff and broadcast opportunities are presenting. After all, that’s how the SEC rolls.