Life just got easier for the SEC. As if the SEC needed things to be easier.
When the ACC expands to 14 teams, it will play a nine-game conference schedule. Just like the Pac-12. Just like the Big 12.
The Big Ten approved a nine-game conference schedule, beginning in 2017, but then the Pac-12 partnership was announced. That automatic addition of a challenging game has convinced the Big Ten folks to stick with an eight-game conference schedule.
And the SEC? It will continue to play eight conference games. Even with 14 teams. And that will help it continue to dominate the BCS standings.
Why is this important? A nine-game schedule means a conference forces itself to appear weaker in the BCS standings. A 12-team league automatically adds six defeats to its ledger. No matter what. The ACC, with 14 teams, will add seven. Again, no matter what.
An eight-game conference schedule allows a team to become Mississippi State. (We apologize to Bulldogs fans for constantly bringing this up, but we wouldn't bring it up if it weren't 100 percent true).
Mississippi State played in a bowl game last year despite going 2-6 in SEC play. No Pac-12 team played in a bowl game with fewer than four conference wins.
The Bulldogs best win last year? Probably an overtime win at home over Louisiana Tech, a game that Tech controlled but lost because of three turnovers.
When Mississippi State -- or many SEC teams -- makes its schedule, its singular goal is to guarantee four wins just about every year. That's what happens when you play teams like Memphis, UAB and Tennessee-Martin on an annual basis.
This wasn't always the case for Mississippi State. Just a few years back, it played home-and-home series with Georgia Tech and West Virginia. Solid teams. But after getting poleaxed in all four games by a combined count of 160-65, it decided it was better to get picked on by the Pac-12 blog than try to man-up against quality nonconference competition.
Oh, as a footnote, Mississippi State is already 4-0 in 2012: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State. No, I did not make that nonconference schedule up.
Meanwhile, in addition to Pac-12 teams playing a nine-game conference schedule, every conference team in 2012 -- other than Oregon and Colorado -- plays at least one A-list nonconference foes. Many on the road. (Yes, Ducks fans, I know Kansas State canceled a home-and-home series).
What this means is Pac-12 teams expose themselves more often to a risk of losing. That means more 4-8 and 5-7 teams and therefore fewer bowl teams. That means more opportunities for a team to fall out of the national title hunt with a single loss. Or a second BCS bowl berth with a second. That means when the computers measure the conference for the BCS standings, they see not only more defeats but those defeats cause the conference to get docked for strength of schedule.
Yes, the SEC as a whole benefits from Mississippi State -- and other low-rung SEC programs -- avoiding challenging nonconference games.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, fresh off a contract extension, understands this. So do most of the Pac-12 coaches. They need to figure out a way to get the Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors on board.
Unless, of course, the SEC comes around -- which some believe is inevitable -- and all the AQ conferences all agree to play the same scheduling format.
The nine-game conference schedule made some sense for a 10-team league because it crowned a true champion as every team played every one else. And, yes, more AQ conferences will play a nine-game slate in 2012 than did in 2010.
But the conference that has won six consecutive national championships won't. That might not be a coincidence.