Spring practice has wrapped up in all but two SEC cities, which means it's time for the head coaches to hit the "rubber chicken circuit" and meet with booster clubs around the south. That means it's campaign season, and the clock is ticking on one item of great importance to coaches and fans.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the group assembled for the Associated Press Sports Editors Southeastern regional meeting on Tuesday that the decision on long-term scheduling format would be decided prior to the conference's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in late May, according to Ryan Black of the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.
The four proposed formats include eight- and nine-game conference schedules, both with permanent cross-division rivalries (which exist now) and without.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban wasted no time stumping for his preference, according to Cecil Hurt of TideSports.com, reiterating his position that a nine-game conference schedule with at least one out-of-conference matchup with a team from another power five conference would be best for the SEC.
"I think there is more support (among the coaches) for eight games and one big nonconference game," he told the crowd at the Crimson Caravan event on Wednesday in Huntsville, Ala. "I have been for nine-and-one."
He's very much on an island, because none of the other coaches share his sentiments. They'd be wise to listen, though, because a nine-game conference plus one "big five" schedule is absolutely something that would benefit the SEC.
The SEC isn't an athletic conference anymore. It's a programming company. The SEC Network, combined with previously existing media rights deals with CBS and ESPN, require the SEC to provide quality inventory to its television partners.
Adding a ninth conference game would give the SEC seven more conference games for its partners to sell to advertisers, a 12.5 percent increase. You add in a mandatory "big five" game into the mix for the teams that don't already have one built in, and that's a total of 77 required games (63 total conference games and 14 out-of-conference games). Of those, 17 would be new—seven conference games and 10 required out-of-conference games in addition to the intrastate rivalries for Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky.
That's a 28.3 percent increase of new inventory that, in theory, should be attractive.
|Required Games Now vs. in the "9+1" Model|
|Format||Total Conf. Games||Total Built-In OOC Games||Total Required Quality Games|
|"9+1" equals nine conference games plus one required OOC game from a "Power 5" conference|
The SEC's television partners, including the new SEC Network and its three games per Saturday and—more importantly—its advertisers, would absolutely eat that up.
It also would be attractive to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten will implement a nine-game schedule starting in 2016. The division champs in the SEC will play a ninth conference game in the SEC Championship Game, matching the number that the Big 12 plays. But the Pac-12 and Big Ten (starting in 2016) division champs will play a total of 10, including the conference title games for each.
If you're the SEC, you can't bank on conference prestige lasting forever. If the SEC doesn't go to nine conference games, it's giving the committee a built-in criticism against any of its College Football Playoff contenders every single season.
That's not good business either.
A perfect scenario would be getting multiple teams into the CFP, but any conference prestige that's built up would be cancelled out by the absence of a ninth conference game.
Unfortunately, it looks like Saban is having a tough time garnering support for the ninth conference game among his peers.
That's unfortunate, because he has the SEC's best interest at heart.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.