Conference Expansion, Contracts, and Commitments: The Problem of a Nine-Game SEC Schedule

We interrupt Hate Week (or, if you prefer, "Hate Week II: This Time, It’s Historical") to bring you this SEC expansion update. As you may have heard, the Missouri Tigers will be joining the SEC East in 2012, which poses the immediate problem of scheduling with seven-team divisions.

Though Greg McGarity initially indicated that non-conference schedules would remain unchanged, it has been reported by those who should know that the league will be going to a nine-game SEC slate. Though this has been denied, that denial probably is nothing more than a negotiating tactic. With seven-team divisions and permanent interdivisional rivals, an eight-game conference slate means rotating through the remaining six teams of the opposite division over a twelve-year span. That simply isn’t practical, at least not as a long-term proposition.

Accordingly, it is highly likely that, beginning next autumn, SEC squads will have just three openings on the schedule to line up non-conference games. One of those three spots on the Georgia Bulldogs’ annual slate, obviously, will be reserved for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, which leaves only two Saturdays for arranging dates with out-of-conference foes. These almost certainly will be Division I-AA and lower-tier Division I-A clubs who will come to Sanford Stadium without expecting a return game.

This brings us to the Clemson Tigers.

Yes, I believe Mike Slive picked the wrong Tigers, but that’s water under the Gateway Arch. The problem now is that Georgia and Clemson are scheduled to open the 2013 and 2014 seasons against one another in a revival of the rivalry that was arranged in 2005. At the time the contract was signed, my son was two years old, but I knew that he would be ten when the first game rolled around, and I promised him I would take him to his first road game at Memorial Stadium.

To put it mildly, if this series gets canceled, I’m going to be ticked.

Such a cancellation would not be a first for McGarity, who axed series with Oregon and Louisville, but who also did so for the purpose of keeping the ‘Dawgs closer to home. In fact, McGarity specifically said he wanted to see Georgia play Clemson more frequently. Though he argued that home-and-home series with the Jungaleers should occur only "one time in a decade," McGarity is personally familiar with the history of this rivalry, so he is well aware that 2013 will mark the tenth anniversary of the last series meeting in 2003, marking the first gap of more than seven years between showdowns since the founding of both football programs.

McGarity also is aware that contracts must be honored, even in the midst of conference expansion. In the 26 seasons from 1962 to 1987, Georgia played Clemson 24 times and South Carolina 23 times. When the SEC increased its number of conference games from six to seven in 1988, it became necessary for the Bulldogs to begin alternating meetings with both sets of Palmetto State rivals. Consequently, Georgia set up home-and-home series with the Gamecocks in 1988 and ‘89, the Tigers in 1990 and ‘91, the Gamecocks in 1992 and ‘93, and the Tigers in 1994 and ‘95.

A monkey wrench was thrown into the machinery in 1990, when the league opted to expand, bringing South Carolina into the fold and upping the number of conference contests to eight. Even so, though, the Red and Black honored their commitments, hosting the Country Gentlemen in 1994 and visiting Fort Hill in 1995 as planned, despite the inconvenience of playing eight SEC contests in an eleven-game season. Georgia should not do less in 2013 and 2014, even if the Classic City Canines must contend with the inconvenience of playing nine SEC contests in a twelve-game season.

Fortunately, money talks, and McGarity knows it:

With the addition of the Texas A&M Aggies to the SEC in 2012, UGA athletics director Greg McGarity doesn’t think there will be a nine-game conference football schedule.

"We are locked into nonconference games with very high liquidated damages for both parties in some games through 2016, so I don’t foresee a nine-game schedule happening," McGarity told the Times Free Press. "If the conversation goes to nine games, then you’re going to have a number of institutions that already have signed agreements on nonconference opponents on set dates."

McGarity went on to state "I fully expect to play every one of our nonconference opponents on the Saturdays we have fully executed contracts with."

Granted, that was before the addition of Missouri, but the Georgia athletic director sounded pretty unequivocal, and the athletic association would be on the hook for $500,000 buyouts for each of the two scheduled games with Clemson. Since SEC expansion is all about money, the bottom line could be determinative, which is good; for once, lucre and tradition could be on the same side, and the league could make do with seven-team divisions and an eight-game schedule as a stopgap measure to get the current schools through the transitional period without having to violate their contractual obligations. Given how careful Mike Slive has been to avoid any unpleasant legal entanglements, that actually seems probable.

Just the same, I’d rather not run the risk. The Bulldogs will be taking on one historic Tiger rival on Saturday, and they will be adding a new Tiger rival in 2012, but this should not be permitted to derail a scheduled series with the Red and Black’s other historic Tiger rival in 2013. If only to be on the safe side, I am going to e-mail Greg McGarity here to let him know how important I believe it is for Georgia to honor its commitment to play Clemson in 2013 and 2014, and I would ask all of you to do likewise.

The Bulldogs are set to kick off against the Tigers in Death Valley on August 31, 2013, 661 days hence. Six years ago, I made a promise to my son that he and I would be there then. I intend to honor that promise. I expect my University to honor its promise to make that possible.

Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!

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