Speculation has started regarding scheduling in the power conferences. The SEC leads these prospective headlines by possibly expanding to a nine-game conference schedule.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has already been on record welcoming this possible change. However, is this change something that will help or hurt the SEC and its brand? The answer is simple, yet so very complicated: it helps and hurts all at the same time.
A schedule expansion would put even more marquee games on the SEC conference docket. Teams would replace Sun Belt or FCS opponents with a third cross-divisional opponent. With the newly formed SEC Network carried by ESPN, this schedule expansion would bring even more viewers to the best conference in football. With more viewers comes better ratings, and better ratings means more money for the SEC. This is easily a great incentive to expand the conference schedule, but the main drawback may be just as costly as the lucrative positive side.
The SEC has been the most dominant conference in college football for the best part of the last decade. SEC teams load the top of the rankings before, during and after the season, as well as provide more NFL prospects than any other conference. With so much talent across the board, adding an extra game against an SEC team is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the National Championship streak.
Even though the BCS ends after this season and the new College Football Playoff begins in the 2014 season, SEC teams may effectively eliminate one another from contention with a conference schedule expansion. The cliche with strong divisions or conferences is that they beat each other up during the regular season, which hurts the conference’s playoff chances as a whole. Yes, this ensures that the single-best team should rise above the rest and show itself as the conference champion.
However, such a system in college football only ensures that all teams would be eliminated from playoff contention due to the amount of strength of their opponents. Alabama, for instance, has lost a conference game in each of the last two seasons, but still managed to play for and win the BCS Championship. If another tough conference opponent is added to the schedule, the world may see teams with two or three conference losses playing for the SEC Championship. With multiple losses, those teams would need a lot of help in order to be in serious contention for a berth in the new playoff format.
While the conference schedule expansion is still being deliberated amongst the SEC, it is easy to see why it is a tough debate. More top-notch opponents means more viewers, better ratings and more money, but it also means having yet another game against a great opponent that could easily result in a loss and elimination from playoff contention. Money is hard to turn down, especially with the great coaches and facilities that SEC teams possess as a direct result of the money the football programs bring in, but is it enough to risk the national dominance the SEC has created?