With the SEC meetings scheduled to take place later this month, talk about the league expanding to a nine-game conference schedule has intensified. While this plan has a number of high-profile supporters—including Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban—the SEC would be better off sticking with its current format.
Let’s be honest: the SEC has nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing an extra conference game every year. After winning the last seven national championships, no one—even Jim Delany, who said that a team that doesn’t win its own division shouldn’t play for the national championship—is going to question the SEC’s strength of schedule. The added league tilt would only ensure that seven teams in the conference would suffer an additional loss each season.
Believe it or not, those seven losses could cost the conference an awful lot of money. If the league’s top dogs were to meet in the extra league contest, it could potentially knock the loser out of the College Football Playoff altogether. By the same token, the additional conference game would be just enough to knock one or two teams out of a bowl game.
Does the SEC really want to make sure that every team meets at least once every four years if it means losing millions of postseason dollars?
Of course not. After all, there’s nothing to suggest that the nine-game schedule would bring in any more revenue than the eight-game schedule currently does. Sure, the SEC Network contract puts pressure on the league to generate at least three top-quality matchups each week, but the conference could easily accomplish this goal through other measures such as scheduling tougher non-league contests and/or eliminating games against FCS competition.
Since the nine-game schedule won’t bring in any additional money, the only reason left to adopt it is that the extra conference game might enhance the league’s strength of schedule (which by the way, it doesn’t need as I mentioned earlier).
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, it actually discourages teams from playing tough non-conference competition.
As any athletic director will tell you, every major college program needs to play at least seven home games in order to remain financially viable. With an unbalanced league schedule, teams will have to play five road games every other year. Unless a school wants to lose all of the revenue associated with a seventh home game, it must play all of its non-conference games at home.
Therein lies the problem. Every SEC team, especially the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, South Carolina Gamecocks and Kentucky Wildcats—which already have in-state rivalry games with foes from another conference—will have a hard time finding quality non-conference opponents. Since no respected FBS program is going to agree to a one-game road series, SEC schools will have to settle for lesser competition (see: MAC, Sun Belt and FCS) in order to have a full slate of seven home games.
How does fewer home games and a watered down non-conference schedule do anything for the rabid SEC fan bases, the very people who made the SEC Network even possible?
To conclude, it’s obvious the nine-game schedule doesn’t really do anything for the conference or its fans. Since that’s the case, the SEC should stick with the current 6-1-1 format as long as it remains at 14 teams. While keeping this system means that some schools will go longer without playing each other, the fans won’t object since it means more challenging non-conference games and gives every school a better chance to qualify for the postseason.