Yesterday Mr. Sanchez set out a cogent argument in favor of the SEC continuing to play 8 conference football games. Sanchez's points were well thought out and imminently logical. He was also totally wrong. Here's why.
First, let's be clear: this decision is not being made in a vacuum. The 9 game conference schedule is the wave of the future. From the Big Ten to the Pac-12, our coevals are going to 9 games. The SEC's failure to add that 9th game would likely become a talking point in Decembers future. There's going to come a day when a one loss Oregon team and a one loss SEC team are making their arguments to get into the coming college football playoff. The margin of separation will be thin. And strength of schedule will be significant.
That 9th conference game will generally improve strength of schedule. Look, as long as athletic directors and coaches are free to schedule cupcake home games to get themselves bowl eligible they will continue to do so. The vast majority of SEC out-of-conference scheduling involves weaker teams than Missouri, Ole Miss, and Arkansas. If we play our way into the coming playoff conversation, I want us to have the rhetorical ammo to win. And 8 conference games plus Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and Georgia Southern doesn't win that argument.
On a related point, better games are better for the conference in the long haul. They improve and reinforce the conference's brand. If we're going to argue to the rest of the nation that our brand of football is the best, we ought to be willing to eat our own cooking. We ought to be willing to play other SEC teams rather than Western Kentucky and Savannah State. But SEC ADs and coaches won't do that voluntarily, at least not en masse.
The problem is what economics scholars call "the race to the bottom." That is, when you give a group of people a minimum standard and they believe surpassing that minimum is not in their best interest, they will do as little as necessary to meet the standard. This is the basis for modern regulatory law of course. And while I don't want to start a politico-economic argument, we need Mike Slive to prevent us as a conference from collectively scheduling 9 year olds to work 20 hour shifts in the coal mines.
But hang competitive equity, it's all about the money, right? And one of the major arguments against moving to 9 games is that it will lead to fewer and uneven scheduling of home games, with some schools having 4 and others 5. For Georgia specifically, with the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party taking place in Jacksonville we could conceivably have only 3 conference home games in some years.
First things first, we play in Jacksonville because we want to, and I'm not inclined to whine about schedules like that guy in Columbia who used to be a pretty good football coach. The WLOCP is a one game handicap now, it would be a one game handicap if we played 9 SEC games. That's the tradeoff for having that annual trip to the beach and a recruiting toehold in northeast Florida. It's a price we pay no matter what else is on the schedule.
The flipside is that of course sometimes we'll have 4 conference home games in Athens (plus a nominal home game in Jacksonville), a home date with Georgia Tech, and 2 additional non-conference games for a total of 7. We don't play that game in Jacksonville for free, by the way, so financial arguments citing it are a bit specious. Also with the rise of made-for-television "matchup games" at the Georgia Dome, JerryWorld, and elsewhere, that 8th home game is not a yearly guarantee for many elite teams. It will become less of a guarantee as networks with big TV deals take a larger role in scheduling and siting games at big neutral venues. Those games, by the way, involve other elite teams, and their existence blunts the argument that a 9 game schedule means the end of epic cross-conference match ups. Those kind of games will keep happening as long as the folks at Disney keep paying schools to play them.
From a competitive standpoint, a 9th game likely benefits the deeper teams, of which Georgia is traditionally one. Over the long run I think we're going to win far more of those extra games than we lose. Theoretically an SEC team contending for a national title could lose that extra SEC game and be shut out of the picture. If only there were some precedent for a one (or more) loss SEC team sneaking into a national championship game. Oh yeah, I guess there is. Bottom line, a cresting weak scheduling meme is a far greater threat to a future SEC Champion's playoff hopes than a single loss to Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M or Georgia.
Finally, conference cohesion is nothing to sneeze at. Ask the folks in the Big XII, or at least what used to be the Big XII. At a certain point a conference has to have internal competition or there are no ties to bind it. We don't have to play Texas A&M every year, but I'd like to at least play them enough to remind myself that we're in the same conference. Those who point out the lack of history we have with certain western division foes as a justification for the 8 game schedule miss the point. We claim to be the best, we claim to have gathered in the best around us. Not just on the field but off. I want to welcome Aggie fans to Athens. I want to travel to Columbia, Missouri more than once a decade. The refusal to add another SEC game to the slate smacks off fear to me. Fear of change. Fear of competition. Fear that there might come a day when Tennessee has an easier schedule than us. But I'm not scared. Bring on the 9th game.
Until later . . .