It's March, which means one of the annual storylines that accompanies the doldrums of the offseason is creeping to the forefront yet again.
The SEC schedule.
The conference voted last offseason to keep the current eight-game, "6-1-1" format for 2014 and 2015. That format features six conference games against divisional opponents, one permanent cross-division rivalry game and one rotating cross-division opponent.
But in 2016, the nine-game schedule is still on the table.
According to Jon Solomon of AL.com, the majority of the SEC's athletics directors support the eight- or "eight-and-a-half" game schedule, the latter meaning that a quality nonconference opponent is required since Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky have annual rivalry games with quality out-of-conference opponents.
That doesn't necessarily mean that an eight-game conference schedule is here to stay. As Solomon points out, the decision will also be up to the presidents. Now that the SEC is not only a collegiate athletic conference but also very much in the television programming business, expect the presidents to view the discussion less as a football decision and more as one that can impact the bottom line.
When the SEC Network launches on Aug. 14, it will force the conference's powerbrokers to change the way they think. Sure, the bottom line has always been an issue and, to a point, they've always had to act like television executives.
Now they are television executives.
As a result, the new network needs inventory, and live college football games provide the most compelling inventory available on the network.
How should the SEC schedule be formatted in 2016 and beyond
According to GetSECNetwork.com, the 24-hour channel will feature 1,000 live events, including 45 college football games in its first year of existence. With three games per Saturday and some weekday football games mixed in, wouldn't it be nice if the pool of games to choose from was a little more compelling?
Of course it would.
Adding one more conference game to the mix not only would create more meaningful games for the network, but also more options for CBS and ESPN—which wholly own SEC Network—to broadcast on their major networks.
The majority of ADs want eight games, and according to Solomon, every coach not named "Nick Saban" is in the same boat. But when the cash from the SEC Network starts rolling in, they'll be torn in two directions.
Eight conference games will still be attractive in the sense that it creates an easier path to the College Football Playoff and allows for scheduling flexibility; but nine games could contribute to more success for the network and more money available for salaries, facilities, etc.
Which takes precedence?
When it speaks, it's going to be in favor of a nine-game conference schedule.