The SEC is taking a wait-and-see approach to the nine-game conference schedule that the Pac-12 and Big 12 have already embraced, and which the Big Ten is moving to in 2014. Many expect 2016 to be the year the SEC makes the move, but for now, of the conference's coaches, Nick Saban remains its biggest advocate.
During his time at the podium at SEC Media Days, Saban really cut loose on scheduling, including mentioning that until someone decides that the major conferences should only play each other, scheduling will remain a difficult dance.
From his presser (transcript via Gator Country):
So if somebody wants to take the leadership and say, OK, here are the five conferences that are the top conferences, and we’re going to play all our games amongst those people, I’d be fine with that. But until somebody says that, it’s going to be impossible to schedule all your games with those teams.
As Saban explained, many conflicting agendas make scheduling difficult. Teams want home games. Fans want good competition. Smaller schools want money. Coaches want to balance challenging their teams with building confidence.
Sure, teams can schedule home games against smaller schools that get coaches get an easy, confidence-building win and don't require the home team to reciprocate by playing at the smaller school. But in that scenario, the fans don't get the great game they were seeking.
Two power conference schools could schedule a home-and-home series that gives a coach the challenge he seeks and provides quality competition for the fans. But as part of a home-and-home series, such an arrangement eventually costs each power school a home game and cuts the smaller schools out of the process.
Taking all that into consideration, Saban's discussion of the top five conferences playing among themselves is not too far-fetched, especially as the stipend debate, recruiting reform, and the swelling ranks of the FBS are pushing college football's highest division to a major crossroads. It's a crossroads that could produce a split as the top leagues move to compensate athletes, while the have-nots work with the FCS or form their own division.
Scheduling is not easy. As we move into the new era of college football, where strength of schedule comes more into play, playing a quality opponent may end up being worth more to schools than a home game against an FCS or low-level FBS team.
Should that day come, look for Saban's hypothetical to come to fruition. The big teams will keep the money within their own power structure, and the little guys will be forced to look elsewhere.