During the Pac-12 coaches’ spring teleconference on Thursday, a major topic of conversation was scheduling heading into the 2014 season and the first ever college football playoff. However, the coaches weren’t talking about their own conference’s scheduling practices but rather those of the mighty SEC.
While many conferences around the country, including the Pac-12, have adopted nine-game conference schedules, the SEC voted last week to maintain their current eight-game conference schedule and preserve what many perceive to be a competitive advantage and Pac-12 coaches were not shy about sharing how they felt about it.
The most outspoken critic of the SEC’s decision was Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw, who said:
“I’ve been saying this for three years now: I think if we’re going to go into a playoff and feed into one playoff system, we all need to play by the same rules. Play your conference. Don’t back down from playing your own conference. It’s one thing to back down from playing somebody else. But don’t back down from playing your own conference.”
Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins added his two cents about the subject as well, telling reporters:
“I would like to see everybody operate under the same set of rules or restrictions or regulations or whatever word you want to throw in there. I think they Pac-12 is an incredibly competitive conference. I look at the teams that make up the this conference and I think anybody can beat anybody on any given week. I think the same could be said for the SEC. And yet we play nine games against each other.”
While the coaches were quick to point out that the teams in the SEC were phenomenal football programs that have accomplished great things in the last decade, there’s no denying that they have a point when it comes to the advantageous scheduling habits of college football’s perceived toughest conference.
Thanks to their eight-game conference slate, SEC teams are able to schedule an extra non-conference opponent during the year. Many teams take advantage and schedule a “cupcake” opponent late in the year to give their team a bit of a rest as the rest of the country is in the meat of their schedule. This helps get teams healthy late in the year while inflating their late-season performance with an easy win.
Last season, for example, the Georgia Bulldogs played FCS Appalachian State on November 7 (a 45-6 win) ahead of a road game against the Auburn Tigers. The Alabama Crimson Tide also took advantage of this scheduling advantage by hosting FCS Chattanooga on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, winning 49-0, as a tune-up for the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
And 2014 will not be any exception. In the final month of the season, six teams from the SEC will play FCS opponents, including four on the second-to-last week of the season. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 will play just three total non-conference games the entire final month of the season, consisting of two against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and one against the BYU Cougars. That strength of schedule disparity can’t be easily dismissed.
As college football transitions into a new era with the playoff system, perhaps it’s time to have everyone playing with the same set of rules. Already, three of the five “power” conferences (Big Ten starting in 2016, Big 12, Pac-12) play nine-game conference schedules with the ACC set to vote on whether or not to go to nine games later this month. Shouldn’t the SEC, arguably college football’s best conference, tackle the same challenges as everyone else?