The 15 game schedule is coming, but it won't be what you think. Much has recently been made of the pending schedule changes with a 14 team league, and several athletic directors at various Southeastern Conference schools have indicated that they are not quite sure how the schedules will work out next season but they are certain there will not be a move to a nine game SEC schedule.
“No, no, no, I don’t know where that came from,” University of Georgia AD Greg McGarity stated in a recent press conference. “That was in error. That has never been discussed. The model is an eight-game conference schedule. I do know that.”
So we do know a few things for certain: With the new seven team divisions SEC teams will need to now play six division games, there will still only be eight total conference games, and that obviously leaves everyone with two cross-division games.
These two cross-division games have become a big talking point as of late with concern as to whether traditional cross-division rivalries will continue. As scheduling currently sits, each and every SEC team has one cross-division opponent that they play every year.
These games are Georgia-Auburn, Tennessee-Alabama, Florida-Louisiana State, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, South Carolina-Arkansas, and Kentucky-Mississippi State.
Because next years incoming teams Texas A&M and Missouri will head to the West and East divisions respectively, and due to the fact that these two teams are traditional Big 12 rivals, it would make sense to continue this trend in the expanded SEC with a yearly cross-division game between Missouri and Texas A&M.
Dates in which teams are scheduled to start new home-and-home series next year may likely be pulled to incorporate the two new teams into their schedule while retaining the second game in a current home-and-home series' that started this season.
That still leaves the SEC with an eight game schedule and four games out of conference. Keeping the math in check that still results in twelve games with a potential fourteen game season for the two teams qualifying for the SEC Championship Game and additionally a bowl game.
Where does that 15th game come in? Well, University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long had a curious tweet on the day Missouri was announced as the SEC's 14th team when asked whether the Tigers would be an SEC East or West team, "East initially."
One could say I'm reading to much into that "initially" remark. But I'm willing to bet the Arkansas AD has a little more insight into the ultimate plans of the SEC better than many of us. To some, the remark speaks volumes and may be telling of the eventual 16 team superconference nature of the league.
When the SEC has 16 teams it is probable that the league will go to four divisions of four teams each while keeping the established eight game schedule. The likely reason for this is due to the fact that if the conference wants to maintain its yearly cross-divisional games and maintain an eight game season, the result is that members of opposing divisions will only be able to rotate one team every two years for the eighth game open spot on the calendar. This is extremely unattractive for multiple reasons and will keep teams from being able to see cross-divisional SEC teams on a regular basis. If there was no division re-alignment. It would take 12 seasons for any one team to face each of the other six cross-division opponents in a home-and home series in a 14 team league.
A four division, four teams in each division conference alignment changes all of this. Each SEC team would only have to face three division opponents and would likely have five games left open to schedule against teams from the other three divisions.
This initially leaves a problem with picking who is to head to the annual SEC Championship Game, but this is an easy fix as the SEC would establish the SEC Semi-Final Playoff one week prior to the championship game.
Each division winner would be seeded at the end of the regular season: No. 1 plays No. 4, No. 2 plays No. 3 in the SEC semifinal round with the higher seeds getting home field advantage, and the winners play in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. And thus creating a 15 game schedule for a team making it to the semifinal round, the championship game, and going on to a bowl game.
The possibilities for this scenario are high, and the precedent for having a (semifinal in this case) championship on the home field of the division winners with the best records will be set this year in the Pac-12 as it will not be using a neutral site for its championship game, but rather will award the site of the game to the Pac-12 team with the best overall record. Having only one week to prepare for this additional playoff game is a non-issue as well considering that SEC East and West winners only have one week to prepare for the championship game as it sits.
The Southeastern Conference is a conference buried in tradition and heritage, but it has proven time and time again that it is also a conference willing to set the standard and lead in the arena of college football. A conference mini-playoff is the best next step to take, especially in the dawn of the superconference era, and will allow the SEC to lead college football as a whole to the promised land of an eventual inter-conference bowl playoff system for the national championship.