Absence of Long-Term Format Indicates 9-Game SEC Football Schedule Is Coming

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 29, 2013

SEC commissioner Mike Slive
SEC commissioner Mike SliveKelly Lambert

Future scheduling was at the forefront of the discussion in Day 1 of the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., on Tuesday, and the outcome of that discussion leaves a lot to be desired.

The SEC uses a 6-1-1 format, with each team playing the six teams from its division, one rotating opponent from the opposite division and one permanent cross-division rival per season. The elimination of the permanent cross-division rivalry game in favor of another rotating opponent and the possibility of adding a ninth conference game were options on the table this week.

Those wanting a long-term answer to the scheduling conundrum will have to wait longer.

According to SEC associate director of media relations Chuck Dunlap, commissioner Mike Slive essentially delayed the decision on a long-term scheduling format.

Slive states will have 8-game, 6-1-1 format in 2014. Probably 2015 as well.

— Chuck Dunlap(@SEC_Chuck) May 28, 2013

So, in other words, the SEC punted.

This fight isn't over, though.

LSU head coach Les Miles was one of the coaches leading the charge to keep the SEC slate at eight games, while eliminating the cross-division rivalry game. SEC head coaches are, for the most part, on board with the campaign to keep the conference schedule at eight games, with the exception of Alabama's Nick Saban, who has been adamant about his desire to move to nine.

Slive's response to the stalemate reveals a lot about where the conference stands.

RT @augoldmine Commissioner Mike Slive: "I'm not committing to a date" for possible change to SEC football schedule format

— Chuck Dunlap(@SEC_Chuck) May 28, 2013

Regarding football scheduling: 'I want what is in the long-term best interest of the Southeastern Conference.'

— Chuck Dunlap(@SEC_Chuck) May 28, 2013

What's in the "long-term best interest" of the SEC will be a ninth conference game, but it's too early to answer that question just yet. A move to nine games would be in the best interest of the conference for two reasons: strength of schedule and programming inventory.

Starting in 2014, the SEC will broadcast three games every Saturday for 13 weeks, meaning it has a major interest in creating quality television inventory. That certainly swings the pendulum toward the nine-game schedule from a business perspective, even though the importance of that aspect of the conversation is up for debate.

An additional conference game would also boost the SEC's strength of schedule.

Fair or not (and it's not...just look at the Week 1 slate), the SEC gets ridiculed for scheduling games against teams that are perceived as "cupcakes." A ninth conference game would marginalize that criticism and create more common in-conference opponents, limiting the influence the schedule has on determining division winners.

But winning championships is also good for business, and that's precisely why the SEC finds itself in self-inflicted scheduling limbo.

Slive has led the SEC to its most prosperous time as a conference, but the future landscape remains a bit blurry from a competitive standpoint.

A selection committee will decide upon the four College Football Playoff participants starting after the 2014 season, but what criteria will it use? How much will strength of schedule play into it? Is it wise to add another tough conference game when four members—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky—play tough in-state out-of-conference rivalry games every year?

Those questions can't be answered yet, but they will be soon. 

More times than not, the SEC will get its champion in the playoff. That's a given. But a second team's postseason fate relies on that benefit of the doubt. Preserving it is Slive's goal, and if remaining at eight games would swing the pendulum away from the SEC and toward the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 with all things being equal, the SEC will move to nine.

With those three conferences moving (or staying) at nine conference games starting in 2016, expect the SEC to follow suit.

The eight-game format is safe...for now. But the absence of a long-term format reveals where the conference stands. It knows it will likely need to move to nine conference games, but won't commit until it becomes clear that a change is necessary.

That change will be necessary, even if the majority of the SEC's coaches are against it.