The SEC Meetings usually have a theme or a topic that creates a buzz and becomes the most talked about issue over the entirety of the meetings. This year, talk of an impending nine game schedule dominated the meetings and each coach voiced their preference of sticking with the current eight game schedule with one cross division rival while other coaches, well, actually it was just Nick Saban who voiced his preference for moving to a nine game conference schedule.
In fact, per Mark Long of the Associated Press, the vote among the coaches was 13-1 in favor of keeping an eight game schedule, with you-guessed-who being the only coach out on an island all by himself.
However, Gary Pinkel told media members on a conference call earlier this month that it won’t be up for the coaches to decide.
“I think TV will certainly have something to say about that.” Pinkel said referencing the new SEC cable network. “The commissioner will do what’s best for the league and we will support that.”
While I believe that Pinkel is spot on in his assumption that a new cable network will demand more opportunity to broadcast big games and adding an extra conference game would give them just that, there are plenty of reasons to keep the formula the same.
Like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
“We have a pretty good model right now.” Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said yesterday.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze also brings up a very good point, saying that the addition of an extra game means more losses on the field for the SEC.
“For me when you add a ninth game, that’s seven more losses for our conference.” Freeze told reporters in Destin Florida. “We want to fill all of our bowl slots.”
But, what about the fans? It’s no secret that attendance is down all around the SEC. With HD televisions, comfortable leather couches, air conditioning and beer available, a lot of fans have made the choice to stay at home rather than pay steep prices to see games in person. Something that Nick Saban thinks could be changed with a more competitive schedule.
“What about the fans?” Saban asked. “One of these days, they’re going to quit coming to the games because they’re going to stay at home and watch it on TV. Everybody’s going to say, ‘Why don’t you come to the games?’ Well, if you’d play somebody good, then we’d come out to the games.”
Whether a nine game conference schedule would put more people in the stands is an argument for another day but SEC fans, coaches and teams need to get ready for an impending change.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive essentially delayed an official decision on changing the current format in favor of a new one.
Currently, the league uses a 6-1-1 format. For instance, the Gators play each team in the East, LSU (who is their cross divisional rival) and another team from the West that rotates yearly.
This is where Les Miles has led the charge to eliminate the cross-division rival in favor of having two rotating opponents from the opposing division. This demand has fallen on deaf ears like the Ben Stein playing an economics teacher calling attendance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”
When push comes to shove, Commissioner Slive will do what’s in the best interest of the league. And with a new cable TV deal already set in place, that means making the network happy and giving them more inventory and a bigger selection of games every year. The SEC Network will broadcast three games a week, while CBS still will have the first selection for their own weekly broadcast. Adding another conference game to the schedule could potentially create more appealing games on a weekly basis and give the SEC Network just what they need to hit the ground running.
While Slive said that the current format will probably be in effect for 2014 and maybe even 2015 as well, there will come a time when the conference moves to a nine game conference schedule.
By not coming forward today with a concrete plan for the future, Slive has bought himself and his league time to watch the landscape of college football unfold before committing to any sort of change.
With that being said the SEC will move to a nine game schedule at some point. The new network is going to be a cash cow for the league and in order to keep that cash cow growing; the schedule will have to grow with it.
All quotes were obtained from Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.