LEXINGTON, Ky. – Welcome to the Southeastern Conference, Missouri and Texas A&M. Come visit in a decade.
The newly-minted 14-team SEC faces potentially sticky scheduling issues if it goes to a larger divisional slate, tries to protect rivalries and keep marquee nonconference showdowns.
While most coaches and administrators say they want to stay with an eight-game schedule, extra conference games could generate more revenue and be more attractive to television partners.
SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said the conference will play eight games in 2012 and a nine-game slate “hasn’t been discussed.” Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams said all the athletic directors are expected to gather soon to begin looking into next year’s schedule in football and other sports.
“We have to look at our schedules in all of our sports and sort of now figure out how we integrate two more teams in,” Williams said. “Once Texas A&M was in, we were sitting around and we had a bunch of 13-team schedules. And once the Missouri thing sort of started to heat up, we kind of put those in a drawer for a while to see what happens.”
Williams said now that expansion appears to be at least temporarily on hold, all scheduling options will be reviewed.
“A lot of this has moved sort of quickly in the sense that we were already pretty much have a 2012 schedule in football, and football is the one you plan most ahead. Now we’ve got to figure about the 13th team and now we have to figure about a 14th team,” Williams said. “I think many of us are happy that we think we’re at least at an ending point for now, and we can get on with making schedules and get back to that sort of stuff.
“All of those things will be looked at. I know the commissioner is trying to get a meeting together for us to sit down for a whole day and just go over the schedule.”
Athletic directors would prefer to keep an eight-game schedule, according to a person familiar with early discussions among those in charge.
The person said they like the current setup, the one that has led to five consecutive national championships. They want their extra home games, their non-division rivals and their non-conference rivals. And even though nine conference games could create more television revenue, the powerful league figures its pedigree is enough to command top dollar in any future negotiations.
A nine-game SEC slate would mean schools would have to give up one of their four non-conference games, most of which are played at campus sites. And that would cut into annual revenue, and there would be no guarantee that future television contracts would make up the difference.
Not to mention that a nine-game league schedule could make it more difficult to get two teams into the lucrative Bowl Championship Series. The SEC has placed two teams into the BCS in the last five seasons.
Currently, SEC teams play their five divisional opponents, one designated rival and two rotating teams from the opposite division to comprise the eight-game conference schedules. With two divisions of seven, there’s one less game available in the opposite division.
If the rivalries are protected – and that appears to the priority – and the schedule stays in a similar format with just one rotating interdivisional opponent, it could mean Texas A&M would visit the other six SEC East stadiums once every 12 years.
The other option would be to join other BCS conferences like the Pac-12 and the Big 12 and play a nine-game conference schedule, while the Big Ten will do the same beginning in 2017 citing the quality of playing conference opponents.