Mike Slive had this to say about the future of SEC scheduling when asked this past week at SEC media days:
"I think it's how we take care of business," he said. "There are different dynamics in every league for different purposes. For me, it will be what best positions us to maintain the success we've had as the postseason changes. It's a matter of being open and flexible and dynamic and innovative, and we'll continue to be in that frame of mind."
Let me break that down for you. The SEC is going to a nine game conference schedule, most likely about the same time the SEC network comes on line. In Destin this past May, Nick Saban came out in favor of nine citing the need for familiarity. Will Muschamp is on record saying that the Gators permanent end of season date with Florida State makes for 9 BCS level games and that is more than enough. No doubt people in Columbia, SC and Athens, GA feel the same way. There are three factors that are driving the nine game bus.....let's break it down....
1.) Perception, especially as it relates to the new post season. The ACC and Pac 12 are already scheduled to go to nine. No doubt members of the selection committee with an anti-SEC agenda will use an eight game schedule as a tool, if applicable, to argue against an SEC team making the field of four. Slive is being proactive and eliminating that issue before it has a chance to take hold.
2.) The new SEC network needs programming. With twelve SEC teams playing eight conference games, Mike Slive had 48 SEC vs SEC games (plus the SEC CG) to sell to CBS and ESPN. Fourteen teams playing nine conference games gives Slive 63 games (plus the SEC CG) to sell to CBS and ESPN. That is a significant increase in inventory. The SEC can use the increased inventory to leverage even more money from the partner to be named in regards to the SEC network. Ensuring more SEC vs SEC games are available as opposed to SEC vs Directional U makes an SEC network that much more appealing. More widgets for Slive to sell means even larger checks for him to hand out in Destin each May. Simply put, the money will be too good to pass up.
3.) Increased revenue from CBS. Everyone is familiar with the reasons for adding the Texas and Missouri markets to the SEC footprints. CBS has reportedly balked at ponying up more cash due to the fact that CBS is a national broadcast and the added markets were already included. A nine game SEC schedule, along with scheduling tweaks, ensures that CBS will have a choice game every week. The weekend before Thanksgiving has been notoriously weak. Slive can juice the schedule in a way to make it more appealing to the conferences network broadcast partner by making sure there are no "dogs" on the schedule.
The increased revenue will come at a price. Most affected will be teams like Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss who have found that the formula of : four paycheck teams + two conference wins = bowl bid. Next on the list are Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina who have end of season dates with bitter in state but out of conference rivals. A ninth game will bring the Gators, Dawgs, and Gamecocks to ten legit BCS opponents every year and will most likely eliminate the second warm up game. The rest of the conference will deal with having 4 conference home games every other year (with the exception of Florida and Georgia who will have four home, four road, and will play each other in Jacksonville). Everyone in the conference will be giving up something by going to nine conference games.
No doubt the scheduling meetings will be nothing short of blood sport. Bye-weeks, and order of teams when playing five SEC roadies will be hot topics. Also, the topic of permanent cross division opponents and rotation will come up as well. As Mr. Koehler pointed out last week, there have been certain inequities that can happen when dealing with cross division opponents. A nine game schedule affords an opportunity to help even schedules out by insuring that no one team gets a free pass (outside of drawing two teams that are having "off years". Nothing can be done about that).
Nine games will make things tougher in the SEC, but all nice things have a price. The added security of the Texas markets plus the SEC network revenue come with a price.
Part II will discuss possible rotations.
Bryant Roberts is a life long SEC fan, has 2 autographed pictures of Steve Spurrier, is addicted to BBQ, and a graduate of Presbyterian College. Follow him on twitter here.
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