ATHENS - There's been plenty of talk about future SEC scheduling, but the powers-that-be are going to start getting into the nitty gritty.
The league's 14 athletics directors (yes 14, counting the newbies) are set to meet in Nashville this week at the SEC women's basketball tournament. Those discussions are expected to continue next week in New Orleans at the men's tournament.
Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News has a thorough story today summing up the situation. Solomon talked with about half of the league's athletics directors, and found that while there's not much initial support for a nine-game slate, it will be discussed.
There is still a lot to resolve, so my sense is that any final scheduling philosophy won't be voted on and finalized until this summer's league meetings in Destin.
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Logistically, the easiest thing for the league to do would be to go to nine games, because then all the details would be easier to work out. All cross-division rivalries, such as Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee, are kept and teams continue to see each other at least every five years, as is the case now.
But the problem is that most people are against going to nine games. The view was voiced most recently by Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who made clear last week he still supports staying at eight games.
“Eight league games to me is enough to prove you’re a good football team. And when you always play Georgia Tech to go along with that, that’s another one that you’ve gotta deal with," Richt said. "It’s gonna take everything you’ve got.”
Then Richt added in the idea that a playoff may be coming to college football.
“And if there ever was a day where you play a plus-one and you’ve gotta win that game, then you’ve gotta play another game," Richt said. "For me personally, I think eight’s enough to prove you’re a good football team, and if you win enough game you deserve to move on.”
A ninth game also means one less non-conference game, which most years means one less opportunity for a home guarantee game that makes a lot of money. As more and more teams, including Georgia, go to a easier non-conference scheduling philosophy, that makes a nine-game SEC schedule less palatable.
(The ACC and the Pac-12 went to nine games because in part there are more teams in those leagues that can give up a home guarantee game. The likes of Duke, Wake Forest, Maryland, Utah and Washington State aren't selling out every home game. But SEC teams can schedule almost anybody and fill up their stadium.)
Here's what will be key to watch: Is there enough momentum in the room to keep the cross-division rivalries sacrosanct? You know going in that at least four teams are tied to it: Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama. You'd also have to think Florida and LSU would be in favor of it, given how their annual game has turned out.
But the other schools aren't necessarily wedded to it. South Carolina and Arkansas play every year, but it hasn't made them rivalries and they'd give that game up without much protest. Missouri and Texas A&M may be coming in from the Big 12 together, but they don't have much emotional attachment. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who knows their level of attachment.
“I know our rival game with Auburn is very important for us," Richt said. "It’d be hard not to have that game for a lot of reasons. Just like people talk about losing Texas-Texas A&M not playing. It’s sad when you lose rival games. I don’t know if I’d be excited about losing those rival games.”
There may come a point where Georgia's position has to budge. Will Georgia be able to keep both an eight-game league schedule and its annual game with Auburn? That would mean not playing certain teams from the West for prolonged periods, as much as a decade.
It would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall for the discussions that start this week in Nashville, and could go all the way to Destin - or even further down the road.