This evening the SEC announced a new scheduling system designed to respond to the new world of playoff football. The high points of the plan are as follows:
- Teams will continue to play eight conference games. I think it's safe to say that the concerns of coaches who didn't want to play another game within an already tough conference were heard loud and clear. And they have a point. By at least some measures every team in the conference had a schedule ranked in the top 40 in 2013. Making the road to Atlanta even tougher than it was going to get with the addition of a 4 team playoff was a hard sell. But how do you account for the fact that other schools are playing a ninth conference game? How do you avoid another 2004 Auburn, a team whose strength of schedule shut it out of playing for it all?
- The answer, at least in the long term, is that starting in 2016 all conference schools will be required to schedule at least one out of conference game against an opponent from one of the other "Power Five" conferences. For most, this doesn't change much, if anything. Georgia already plays Georgia Tech annually. Florida already takes on Florida State every season. With Louisville's move to the ACC, even lowly Kentucky is already compliant with this mandate. Even those without a traditional out of conference rival have mostly met the mandate over the past few years.
- Speaking of annual rivalries, maintaining the eight game conference schedule means that traditional games between the Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers, and between Tennessee and Alabama, are safe for now. Most of the rest of the conference does not care one iota about this part of the plan. In fact, this keeps Florida playing a tough game against LSU every season and South Carolina playing a surging Texas A&M program. That's bad for them, but for now pretty good for the 'Dawgs.
That's the plan at a glance. What does it mean? I think it means that some teams from other conferences which share a recruiting footprint with the SEC are about to gain a little advantage on the recruiting trail, and in scheduling clout. For example, Wake Forest and TCU may not be playing for it all anytime soon. But they will be among the more sought after opponents. And they may now be able to tell recruits in the Carolinas and Texas & Louisiana respectively that they will be able to play big inter conference games, maybe in front of home crowds. And because the SEC schools have no choice but to schedule teams from a handful of conferences, teams with open slots in those conferences will have a little more bargaining power than they did in the past.
I think it also means that, at least for now, the conference's athletic directors are comfortable putting their teams up against teams from the other power conferences and presuming they'll win their share. I'm in favor of that stance. If we're going to brag about having the best football conference we need to take that title out for a spin around the neighborhood now and again. Until later. . .