Roger Daltrey said it best: Meet the SEC's new conference schedule, same as the SEC's old conference schedule.*
(*Content of lyrics may vary.)
In a release Sunday evening, the conference announced it would not be moving to a nine-game conference slate any time soon. Rather, the 14-team league would continue to play an eight-game conference schedule with a 6-1-1 format. Every SEC team will play its six divisional opponents, plus a permanent non-divisional rival and a rotating non-divisional opponent.
The major stipulation, per the release, is SEC teams are required to play at least one opponent from the so-called "Big Five" conferences each year. The format takes effect in 2016.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said:
This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule. Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.
Slive touts strength of schedule as a key reason why the eight-game slate was enough, when it's really an optional factor. Every SEC team could annually schedule Big Five bottom feeders and still fulfill its requirement.
From the SEC's perspective, the best part of the agreement is that the language is open to interpretation. Take, for example, its stance on Notre Dame. According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, the Irish are considered an "acceptable" nonconference opponent.
Spoke to SEC, #NotreDame is an "acceptable" opponent to meet requirement of new SEC Big5 conference schedule mandate starting in 2016.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 28, 2014
Acceptable—by whose standards?
Conversely, Feldman tweets another interesting point: It's becoming increasingly harder for the Boise States of the college football world to land an SEC opponent.
New SEC schedule mandate just provided league teams with even less incentive to schedule a Boise or BYU starting in 2016.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 27, 2014
However, Boise State does play Ole Miss in Atlanta to open the 2014 season and should be one of the tougher Week 1 nonconference opponents for the SEC. That could be the last time for a while the Broncos play an SEC opponent. Nothing is preventing a SEC team from scheduling Boise State, but how many were lining up to play the Broncos before?
The Rebels are one of four SEC teams in 2014—along with Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt—who won't play a Big Five opponent, but any reasonable person would agree Boise State is a quality opponent that just so happens to play in the Mountain West.
How many conference games should the SEC play?
Furthermore, a majority of SEC schools already have at least one Big Five opponent scheduled for 2016 and beyond. It's just about filling in the gaps. A handful of SEC schools like Florida (Florida State), Georgia (Georgia Tech), Kentucky (Louisville) and South Carolina (Clemson) have a Big Five opponent built into the schedule as a rivalry anyway.
All but one SEC school, Texas A&M, played a Big Five opponent last year if you include Arkansas and Rutgers and Kentucky and Louisville.
The point being, Sunday's announcement is labeled as news when it's more of a continuation of what is already in place. It's also a challenge by Slive and the SEC to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
As Jon Solomon of CBSSports tweets, until an SEC team is left out of the playoff—or, perhaps, a second team—the conference has no incentive to move to a nine-game slate beyond television purposes.
Bottom line: SEC believes someone's going to have to show the league it needs 9 SEC games for playoff purposes.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) April 27, 2014
It will be interesting to see if the Pac-12, which plays nine conference games, and/or the Big Ten, which is moving to a nine-game slate in 2016, would consider reverting to eight if the SEC proves it can be done in the playoff era. (The ACC, thanks to its scheduling agreement with Notre Dame, is staying at eight conference games.)
Staying at eight games should be lauded as smart move for the SEC rather than an exciting one. Cupcakes are going to be on the nonconference schedule regardless of how many conference games a league plays, so it's better for fans to have more conference games.
That's not what the SEC is concerned with, though. The conference is basically dictating what's important, which is getting as many teams in the four-team playoff as possible, rather than succumbing to what it thinks will be important.
Slive's no fool, so he certainly won't get fooled again.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All scheduling information is courtesy of FBSchedules.com.