Why Retaining the Eight-Game SEC Schedule is in the Georgia Bulldogs' Interests

As hailtogeorgia noted in this morning’s Dawg Bites, Seth Emerson recently interviewed Greg McGarity, which produced the following exchange:

QUESTION: Would going to nine conference games work back into it at some point?

ANSWER: No. That has not even been discussed, and I don’t think it will even be brought back up. I think schools have already scheduled out as far as 2016, so having to break those contracts ... a lot of money (is) run up in liquidated damages if either school pulls out of a game. I will never say never, but right now, there has been no discussion of any nine-game schedule.

QUESTION: With all this going on have you had any time to work on any non-conference future scheduling?

ANSWER: No, because we want to get this (settled). Then once we get it settled, we can crank it back up once we get (settled) on where we stand for the next few years.

QUESTION: I know scheduling the Boise State game, so much of the emphasis was getting a game in the Georgia Dome. The results notwithstanding, is that something that you want to continue to do if possible?

ANSWER: We’d look at it down the road. But we have Clemson in ’13 and ’14 and we have Ohio State in ’20 and ’21. So could there be a way between 2014 and 2020? Who knows?

I agree with Paul Westerdawg that the SEC will keep the eight-game conference schedule until current contracts have run their courses before switching to a nine-game slate. This is a prudent business move by a league that has been careful to dot the I’s and cross the T’s in the process of expansion, which is why I take issue with Senator Blutarsky’s contention that “a fourteen-team SEC has to go to a nine-game conference schedule to preserve a passing familiarity between schools in opposing divisions,” even if it means “having to stroke a check to East Cupcake A & M because the fans might want to see Georgia play Alabama more often than Georgia Southern.”

As McGarity notes, though, the temporary preservation of the eight-game SEC slate will do as much to protect the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming dates with the Clemson Tigers and the Ohio St. Buckeyes as it will to safeguard home outings against Division I-AA schedule fodder. Frankly, there are only two conference opponents I would rather see Georgia play than Clemson, so, absolutely, I’m willing to trade more frequent dates with Western Division teams in order to ensure more frequent dates with a nearby rival the Red and Black have been playing since 1897 . . . longer, in other words, than all but two Western Division teams, and longer than all but four Southeastern Conference opponents overall.

Besides, since when is “preserv[ing] a passing familiarity between schools in opposing divisions” the historical norm in the league? When the SEC last expanded in 1992, each team had only one game per autumn against a rotating opponent from the other division, though this was changed after a few years, much as the current arrangement is apt to be. The heritage of the conference, moreover, has been one that featured infrequent meetings between schools that were not natural rivals with one another. In the 59 seasons between 1933, the year the league was founded, and 1991, the final year prior to the advent of divisional play, Georgia met the LSU Tigers 19 times, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs 16 times, and the Tennessee Volunteers ten times. Frequent face-offs against unfamiliar teams simply are not among the SEC’s defining traditions.

Finally, not for nothing, but, at the moment, the West is stronger than the East. To some extent, this is cyclical, but the West is aided by a number of factors, and I’m not just talking about oversigning. Unless such occasional tilts as Ole Miss-Memphis and LSU-Tulane are to be treated as serious series, no team in the SEC West has a meaningful perennial out-of-conference rival.

There are, though, four such high-profile rivalries in the SEC East: Georgia has the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Florida Gators have the Florida St. Seminoles, the Kentucky Wildcats have the Louisville Cardinals, and the South Carolina Gamecocks have Clemson. A nine-game conference schedule means two-thirds of the East will be assured of playing ten serious games every year, leaving just two spots on the slate to fill with patsy opposition. Giving the West an additional tune-up game provides that division with a competitive disadvantage---compare the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 2011 non-conference schedule to the Red and Black’s, and tell me the Hogs didn’t get a boost in their bowl berth from playing more weak sisters---and it is not in our interests to afford an extra edge to the division that has won four of the last five SEC Championship Games and taken the last three by a combined 130-40 margin. Adding a ninth conference contest would tilt even more the playing field McGarity is trying to level, which is why our athletic director deserves praise, not criticism, for defending the principle Dick Van Patten articulated: eight is enough.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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