Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Tougher SEC schedules appear inevitable

By Edward Aschoff

DESTIN, Fla. -- SEC coaches might have voted 13-1 to keep an eight-game conference schedule, but they could be getting more than they bargained for down the road.

For now, the eight games are safe and so is the 6-1-1 scheduling format, but with the College Football Playoff and the SEC Network looming, it's hard to believe that both of these models will stay after the 2015 season for college football's top conference.

Florida coach Will Muschamp might have said it best on Wednesday. He prefers an eight-game conference schedule -- which certainly benefits the Gators, considering they already have Florida State on the schedule -- but he understands that with all the change coming, nine games appears inevitable, even if it might not be what he thinks is best for the conference.

"There's a lot of question marks out there that are really hard to really answer right now, kind of like the nine-game schedule," 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."

Nick Saban began the week with the idea of SEC teams playing 10 BCS games every year -- during the regular season. That could be nine league games and then a bigger nonconference game or it could be eight league games with two bigger nonconference games.

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle echoed those same thoughts Wednesday.

"I don't know if nine (SEC) games is the answer. What I think is that we really need to play at least 10 good games," Battle said. "My personal feeling is we shouldn't be playing three or four games with, I guess, Football Championship (Subdivision) teams. Whether we play more conference games or just more FBS games, I think we need to play 10 (quality) games because our fans are going to get tired (of going to games with lesser opponents)."

He certainly has a point. Fans don't show up for the cupcakes like they show up for the creme brulee or even the carrot cake. Those games don't do well with ratings and they just aren't very exciting to watch in person or otherwise.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive even hinted earlier this week that he'd like to see teams beef up their nonconference schedules, which could be sort of a tradeoff for teams if the league stays at eight conference games. Regardless, he wants to see more meat on teams' schedules going forward.

So while SEC coaches left Destin Wednesday with an almost unanimous vote on keeping eight league games, their votes might not mean too much in the end. This means a more difficult road to the playoff and the national championship for the league that has won seven straight BCS titles.

Think about it, if the the SEC moves to nine conference games the SEC champion will have to play 10 SEC games and another BCS game before even starting the playoff.

Personally, I'm in favor of all the SEC teams beefing up their schedules. It's just a better product to watch. And the league's new network probably won't want a lull during the season with a weekend of, well, weak opponents littering its lineup.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin suggests you can spread conference games throughout the season to ensure that an SEC matchup occurs every weekend.

"I know with television and with everything that becomes important there's a way to maintain that and maybe reconstruct the schedule so that it serves the national need of fans and our television needs and still gives us an opportunity to play in the toughest league in America," Sumlin said.

Makes sense, but if there's a chance to bring in more fans and money by toughening up the schedule, the league will do it. And this is a chance for the league to flex its muscles even more. Sure, the old method has worked, but things change. The SEC took a major step with the first conference championship game in 1992, and this would be another one.

Coaches could get more than they asked for, but they should embrace the challenge should it arise.