Late last month, the Southeastern Conference announced that it would be sticking with an eight-game league schedule in football. Last week, it released a 12-year rotation so that its 14 affiliates could start locking up opponents.
That was the end of the discussion about scheduling, right?
Not even close.
With the conference gathering this week for its annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida, the biggest topic so far as been scheduling.
Some coaches want to do away with playing teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), while others are still upset about which non-division SEC team it has to annually face.
And then there’s Nick Saban.
The University of Alabama coach has long advocated going to a nine-game league schedule, which numerous other conferences have adopted.
In addition to preserving non-divisional rivalries like the one the Crimson Tide have with Tennessee, it would give players a chance to at least face every other SEC team during their careers.
“I’m saying the same thing as from a year ago,” said Saban. When the measure came up to a vote in 2013, the coaches casted their ballots 13-1—with Saban being the one.
However, with the power-five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) on the verge of being granted more autonomy by the NCAA, Saban is now also advocating that the teams in those leagues only play each other during the 12-game regular season.
No one would face an opponent from the American Athletic, Mountain West or, closer to home, the Sun Belt.
“There’s so much emphasis on the championship game and playoffs that more teams would be involved because you could lose a game or two if you played a really strong schedule and still have a chance,” Saban recently said at his final Crimson Caravan stop of the offseason. “Fans would have more interest that you still might have a chance to get into the mix.
“That’s just my opinion, but when I was in the NFL we had 32 teams and had to play someone every week among those 32. So I don’t know why it’s not a good thing for college.”
Saban would also like to do away with six-win minimum and conference affiliations for all bowls, with the NCAA selection committee deciding the playoff pairings and setting all bowl matchups.
That’s all obviously well beyond the scope of the SEC, and considering how long it took everyone to get on board for a playoff, there’s good reason why commissioner Mike Slive recently said, "Turning the NCAA is not unlike turning an aircraft carrier from north to south.”
It wasn’t until Missouri and Texas A&M had played two full seasons in the SEC that his own league could agree on a schedule format.
Although the strength-of-schedule component for making the playoff will hopefully lead to fewer teams facing FCS opponents, the recent flip side to that is it hasn’t been easy for the Crimson Tide to schedule nonconference games—period.
Last season was a good example.
Alabama had an open date after facing Virginia Tech in the neutral-site opener in Atlanta. It would have preferred that bye to be at almost any other time, but couldn’t get a game for that weekend.
When another opponent pulled out of its game, Alabama was in danger of not having a full schedule. It eventually approached former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and Colorado State, who negotiated a two-game deal for $1.5 million per appearance.
"Look, it's difficult, all right, because if you're not willing to go home-and-home with somebody, if you're playing a neutral-site game you don't want to go home-and-home with other people," Saban said during a press conference in September 2012.
"You've got to get people to come here and play. That's been very difficult for the next few years because the SEC's got to tell us who we're going to play and when before we can go and schedule other games."
Next season, Alabama is set to return to the Cowboys Classic in Texas, where it kicked off its 2012 title run with a blowout victory over Michigan. This time, it’ll face Wisconsin.
It’ll also host Louisiana-Monroe, with Colorado State to return in either 2015 or 2017. That’s it so far.
According to the Virginian-Pilot's Harry Minium, Old Dominion, which is joining Conference USA this season, was recently approached about visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2015 for $1.3 million. Who did the initial asking? ESPN.
Alabama and Georgia Tech had agreed to play in 2013 and 2014, but the series was later pushed back to 2019 in Tuscaloosa and 2020 in Atlanta, and then eventually cancelled.
A home-and-home series with Michigan State was also set for 2016 and 2017, again to be cancelled, partially due to the game’s changing climate, but Alabama and Southern California have confirmed that they're considering a possible 2016 meeting in Dallas.
Factor in tradition, the amount of money each home game brings in and all conferences not being equal, and the only conclusion one can draw is that the SEC’s recent announcements weren’t the end of the scheduling debate, but just the beginning.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.