- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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DESTIN, Fla. -- Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer still gets a kick out of reminding coaches, and even media members, of all of the gloom and doom they were spreading when the league made the bold move in 1992 of going to a conference championship game, and expanding and splitting into two divisions.
The fear was that having to play an extra game after making it through the eight-game grind of the league schedule would put the SEC at a huge disadvantage in terms of winning national championships.
A few coaches even suggested that the SEC could forget about having much of a say in the national championship equation going forward.
Well, Alabama went 13-0 that first year of the conference championship game and won its first national title in 13 years.
In fact, 11 of the past 21 national champions have come from the SEC, including the past seven.
Suffice it to say that the changing landscape of the SEC two decades ago didn’t send the league into football oblivion, and something says it will continue to prosper in this current climate of change.
Even so, the unknown is always a little scary.
“There are a lot of question marks out there that are really hard to answer right now, kind of like the nine-game [conference] schedule,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “Is that best for our league? We really don’t know right now.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be great for the fans. It’s going to be great for TV. But is that what’s best for the Southeastern Conference? I don’t know right now.”
Even though the coaches voted 13-1 to keep it at eight conference games, which will be the way the league goes in 2014 and probably in 2015, the overriding feeling this week at the spring meetings was that nine conference games are coming.
Alabama’s Nick Saban has been the one coach pushing for nine games. Everybody wants to know his rationale.
For starters, he understands as well as anybody that when the College Football Playoff gets here in 2014 that strength of schedule (and who you beat and where you beat them) will be the most important component in making it into the “final four,” as Steve Spurrier calls it.
“If we’re going to get more than one team from the SEC [in the playoff], we’re going to have to play more than eight games,” Saban said. “So we’re going to have to play nine. Some of us already do, and even 10 of what I’m going to say are BCS-quality opponents.
“It’s hard to schedule those people, and it’s difficult to do home-and-homes and make it work. So why not play nine conference games and make it work and then play one other [marquee nonconference] game?”
But at some point, the SEC’s national championship streak is going to end.
And Muschamp is right. Nobody knows for sure what the landscape will look like once the selection committee is picked and a four-team playoff becomes a reality.
It could be a few years into the playoff before we have a true read.
One of the other hot debates this week in Destin was permanent opponents. LSU has been leading the charge to do away with permanent cross-divisional opponents. Les Miles would like to see a format (in an eight-game schedule) where teams play their six divisional foes and then two rotating foes from the other division.
Of course, Auburn and Georgia, as well as Alabama and Tennessee, are dead set on keeping their annual rivalries.
For the time being, it’s going to stay at eight conference games, and a 6-1-1 rotation already has been approved through 2026. Obviously, the presidents will have the final say, and nothing says that can’t become a 6-1-2 format in a couple of years if (when) the league goes to nine conference games.
Alabama, which has avoided the best teams from the East Division each of the past two regular seasons, would get Georgia in 2014 as its cross-divisional foe and Florida in 2015. Again, this is assuming the rotation approved through 2026 sticks.
There are sure to be a few twists and turns, and it’s only natural that adding a ninth SEC game would be unnerving for coaches and athletic directors.
Keep in mind that in the past six years, Alabama, Florida and Georgia all have gone to bowl games with six regular-season wins.
One thing we know about this league is that it changes fast. But it’s also a league that has proved it can handle change with the best of them.
Does anybody really expect that to change?
17hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson