The Southeastern Conference announced the scheduling format it will use in the future on Sunday, and it looks a lot like the present one.
In a joint meeting involving the presidents and chancellors of the league's institutions as well as the athletic directors from all 14 member schools Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, it was decided the SEC will stick with eight conference games in a 6-1-1 format. Each team will play the six schools in its division, plus one permanent cross-over team and one rotating team.
That means Auburn's rivalry with Georgia and Alabama's rivalry with Tennessee are safe for the foreseeable future. Many people thought if the league stayed at eight games, it would do away with the permanent cross-over opponents in favor of two rotating ones.
After much discussion, however, school presidents felt those annual rivalries were inextricably linked to the fabric of the conference.
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"Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. “It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions.”
Make no mistake, Slive said: Staying at eight games was due in part to the "existing strength" of the league, which appeared in the last eight editions of the BCS championship game, walking away victorious in seven of those matchups.
Beyond that, the conference cited three other advantages in remaining with eight games:
Balance: Every team will have four games at home and four on the road. If the SEC had gone to nine games, it would have resulted in some schools with five home games and others with four every season.
Visibility: Noting the growing popularity of neutral site contests, the eight-game slate will give more opportunities to take part in games featuring major non-conference opponents.
Flexibility: It allows each school more control over its four non-conference games each season.
But starting in 2016, schools will have a little less wiggle room in non-conference affairs. In the biggest scheduling change announced Sunday, the SEC mandated that each of its teams play at least one game each season against a team from the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten or the Pac 12. The league said it wanted those games to help with strength of schedule, which will be a factor in the new playoff format which starts at the end of next season.
Four schools already involved in annual in-state rivalries against ACC schools won't be affected: Georgia (which plays Georgia Tech), South Carolina (which plays Clemson), Florida (which plays Florida State) and Kentucky (which plays Louisville).
Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are the only SEC schools that won't face a non-conference opponent from a power conference in 2014. Alabama opens the season in the Georgia Dome versus West Virginia while Auburn makes the trek to Manhattan, Kan., to take on Kansas State in a nationally televised Thursday night game Sept. 18.
Sunday's announcement was the culmination of a year's worth of discussion centered around the best format for future conference scheduling.
All in all, Slive was pleased with how things turned out.
"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," the commissioner said. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.
“The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.”
The permanent non-division opponents are as listed below:
Alabama (west) vs. Tennessee (east)
Arkansas (west) vs. Missouri (east)
Auburn (west) vs. Georgia (east)
LSU (west) vs. Florida (east)
Ole Miss (west) vs. Vanderbilt (east)
Mississippi State (west) vs. Kentucky (east)
Texas A&M (west) vs. South Carolina (east)