Monday, June 10, 2013

Eight is Enough For SEC … Or is It?

By Jean Neuberger

There's always a good debate, or quote, that comes from the SEC Coaches Meetings in Destin, Florida.

This year, there's no exception, as Alabama's Nick Saban called for the SEC to join other BCS schools in creating a new, nine game conference slate each season. Saban claims it's the best thing to do for the game itself. And, given the current state, Saban has a good point to make.

However, is it better for the game? Or better, long-term, for the SEC and the other big conferences?

The eight game slate works best for the SEC right now in the current state of football affairs. The conference slate is well-known to wear the best teams down eventually, including Alabama's loss at home to Texas A&M last year. Having four non-conference opponents (with most of them being of the cupcake variety) allows the conference to gather up wins, fill in bowl ties and continue to play for national title games.

However, the start of the four-team playoff is nearing. And, once that begins, the SEC will then seriously consider going to nine games. For a conference that Gordon Gee claimed couldn't read or write, it certainly has the savviest commissioner in Mike Slive. And Slive knows that it's not quite the time to start the eight vs. nine debate. While Saban speaks up now, the commissioner will wait until it fits the needs of the conference first and foremost.

For example, take the SEC Network. One would think that Slive would've struck earlier on this, given the SEC's run of national titles in football. Slive, though, bid his time and let the Big Ten have the first crack. He watched the moves of the Big 10, Pac-12, and Texas's Longhorn Network. He researched and studied thoroughly. Then, while the iron was still scorching, he lands a deal with ESPN that redefined the term "mammoth contract."

Slive knows exactly what he's doing. And he'll eventually lead the charge to move the SEC to a nine-game schedule. It'll happen when the College Football Playoff goes into effect. Knowing the power of the league, the SEC champion will likely be in the four team playoff most every year. With one slot almost secured, Slive then can assure SEC coaches that playing an extra game will not only boost revenues, but that the conference is so good that a two-loss team should still have little trouble making the playoff, thus playing an extra conference game will not hurt their programs.

So the coaches will agree to it. The SEC Network grows. The conference coffers explode and things just keep rolling down south. What will most likely happen? The permanent cross-division rival will continue, angering Les Miles, and teams will play two different teams each year, allowing each team to have played all conference members in a three-year period.

The Pac-12 and Big Ten had the right idea to go to a nine-game slate. The SEC will do it in its own sweet time. There still lies one important question. If the big conferences take away one non-conference opponent, how do the mid-majors and other conferences get any chance at possibly earning a spot in the College Football Playoff?

Chances are, they don't. It will force mid-majors to schedule nothing but brutal non-conference slates in order to grab any piece of the playoff pie. Some will try it; others will skip a slim chance for title hopes and try for a lower BCS-level bowl. However, the worsening scenario for mid-major conferences is something they have to address, especially when the SEC decides o go to nine games.

Conference realignment changed the game. Schedule realignment? That could create even more chaos. At least we know this: even the silly season is loaded with intrigue.

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