Guerry Clegg commentary: Believe it or not, Spurrier may have a point in SEC schedule debate

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJune 4, 2013 

The SEC, as it has been noted a time or two, rang in the new year by winning its seventh consecutive national championship in football.

The schools just divvied up more than $20 million in revenue for the second year in a row. That's especially impressive considering that two new members had to get their share.

Even so, it became a hot debate when the league coaches and athletic directors tossed around scheduling scenarios to accommodate 14 schools. Should they play nine conference games or leave it at eight?

In the end, does it even matter?

There are two bottom lines here: winning championships and turning a tidy profit. Even with a schedule that had to be hastily revised after Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference, the SEC continued its national dominance and banked a record amount of revenue, pushing $300 million.

The proverbial win-win.

Chances are, whether the schedule is expanded or remains the same, the SEC will continue playing for national titles -- that is, as long as Nick Saban remains at Alabama -- and continue to rake in millions.

Both options contain a significant downside. Playing eight games limits inter-divisional matchups. Adding a ninth conference game makes the schedule more taxing, which would discourage some schools from playing challenging non-conference opponents. For the schools in the middle or lower end of the pecking order, trading a paycheck opponent for another SEC team could cost them bowl eligibility.

Until it becomes clear that a nine-game schedule is more beneficial, the league doesn't need to make a change.

What it does need to do is reconsider Steve Spurrier's idea. The South Carolina coach suggested counting only divisional games in the standings. That proposal was scoffed at as being self-serving, since South Carolina's Western Division opponents the last two years included Arkansas in 2011 and LSU last season. Spurrier? Self-serving?

Be that as it may, Spurrier is right. (Understand, those last three words do not flow naturally.) The most equitable way to determine the division champion is to play equitable schedules. Granted, that means the Auburn-Georgia game loses its conference significance. Same for Alabama-Tennessee and Florida-LSU.

But the rivalries themselves are significant regardless. The Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry has remained fierce even more than 40 years after Bobby Dodd pulled the Yellow Jackets out of the SEC. One could argue that the Tech-Georgia game isn't what it once was. But that has more to do with Tech's program losing national relevance.

Consider the Florida-Florida State rivalry. That has been extremely heated, and they've never been in the same conference.

The only reason the Alabama-Tennessee game has lost any luster is that the Vols have declined. If Tennessee becomes a top-10 program again, the intensity of the rivalry will return.

Whatever they do to the schedule, the SEC will remain college football's premier conference and revenue engine. Adding Texas A&M and Missouri expanded the television market, which almost certainly will lead to more revenue. But it also expanded the attention of the media and the bowl executives. The additional exposure -- particularly in talent-rich Texas -- is only going to help recruiting.

When the 2013 season arrives in August, the SEC will begin pursuit of its eighth consecutive championship. Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and Florida all have to be considered contenders to varying degrees. And if men's basketball recovers from a down season, the SEC could top $300 million in revenue.

How much better can it get?

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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