Our SEC panelists from around SB Nation's college network were asked the following question:
Are you in favor of a nine-game conference schedule? Is preserving annual cross-division rivalries (Alabama-Tennessee, Georgia-Auburn, LSU-Florida) worth adding seven more conference losses to the aggregate and having fewer teams make bowls?
College and Magnolia (Auburn): As an Auburn fan, I’m all for any solution that guarantees the preservation of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Even with an eight-game schedule, I don’t think the SEC would be stupid enough to let Auburn-Georgia, Bama-Tennessee and LSU-Florida fall by the wayside, but having them guaranteed would be a little nicer.
Aside from saving a few of the conference’s big rivalry games, a nine-game schedule is much better for the fans. I mean, does anyone really care about that Sun Belt matchup in September or October? Yes, schedules will be more difficult, which could hamstring potential title runs, and yes, fewer SEC teams will make it to bowl games. But preserving rivalries, and having more games that actually matter outweighs the negatives.
Alligator Army (Florida): I'm not necessarily in favor of a nine-game schedule, because I like to think Florida might someday play a good team out of state/the SEC, but I recognize its inevitability. And as a Florida fan who wants LSU on the schedule and knows Florida State's going to remain on the schedule, I welcome the nine-game slate. The added games are small things to the giants of the conference, who will be handing out more losses than they take. (Of course, there's no way the nine-game schedule doesn't help Alabama most. It will. It always does.)
Team Speed Kills (SEC): I'm for the Saban Plan. Nine games, with two rotating interdivision games and one permanent interdivision game as well as a non-conference BCS opponent on the side. Does that likely mean one or two fewer teams make a bowl? Sure, but that's the only way to be fair both to teams with difficult cross-division rivalries and those with nonconference rivalries (read: SEC East teams).
As far as whether cross-divisional rivalries are worth the extra losses: Yes. The whole reason that the Big 12 imploded, aside from Texas being Texas, was that it didn't really bother to preserve any of its traditions, and so it became a league of convenience for everyone. Tradition is part of what makes college football better (in my opinion) than the NFL and part of what makes the SEC better (again, in my opinion) than the rest of the country. We don't need a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl to tell us who we are.
Rocky Top Talk (Tennessee): Cynically, I don't really get the point of going to a bowl at 6-6, so bring on the additional conference games. The thing that most teams would lose isn't the cupcakes -- it's the marquee out-of-conference game. That's the downside, but even with eight conference games there's no guarantee that you'll get that marquee game scheduled. Take the extra conference game and take your chances with bowl eligibility.
Good Bull Hunting (Texas A&M): I am not in favor of a nine-game schedule, as the cross-division rivalry does nothing for me. Texas A&M does not have a real rival in the East. I would like to see at least one legit OOC team on A&M's schedule in the future.
Arkansas Expats: I'm absolutely for a nine-game schedule. I wrote a column about it over a year ago and haven't changed my mind at all. I firmly believe expansion without adding more games = dilution. Staying at eight and playing cupcakes will be bad for the conference when every other major conference is at nine. I don't have empathy for programs whose strategy is to beat four cupcakes and bottom-feed against the worst of the conference to get to bowls in Birmingham or Shreveport. The SEC doesn't gain much from that.
You know, somehow when college football was only 11 regular season games, the SEC still played eight conference games, and most schools still played a tough non-con, and that seemed okay. Give the fans good games.
No rivalry is big enough to hold the rest of the conference hostage. A lot of schools have lost rivalries due to expansion, including ours with Texas when Arkansas came to the SEC 20 years ago, and the Razorbacks survived. A&M is thriving without the Longhorns. Even Oklahoma and Nebraska quit playing annually nearly 20 years ago and college football has found a way to survive. Play better games. Play more conference games.
A Sea of Blue (Kentucky): I am not in favor of a nine-game SEC schedule. I think it would do more to hurt the SEC's chances to play in the national championship game than help it.
But leaving that aside, there are many teams that would wind up with only one or two opportunities to play lesser opponents. For example, Kentucky is going to have to play Louisville every year. Georgia has to play Georgia Tech. Florida, Florida State and sometimes Miami. South Carolina, Clemson. These games are more or less mandated by the states in question, and adding another SEC game would be just fine for Alabama, which has no permanent non-SEC rivalry, or LSU. But it would truly suck for the teams that already have at least one rivalry game out of conference.
Unless that can be addressed, a nine-game SEC schedule has a built-in bias for teams with FBS rivalries already in place.
Red Cup Rebellion (Ole Miss): I honestly do not care one way or another. Maybe the schizophrenia that is the performance of the Ole Miss football program over the past couple of decades has rendered me numb to these kinds of things. I'm not sure a nine-game conference schedule benefits or hurts Ole Miss in any way, outside of potentially robbing us of interesting out-of-conference matchups in the future.
As far as the cross-divisional games go, can we not find some sort of compromise? Maybe it's not equitable to preserve some and not others, but really, nobody gives a damn that Mississippi State and Kentucky play against each other, whereas Alabama vs. Tennessee is a pretty significant game in SEC culture. Surely we can find a way to preserve those games that matter, so to speak. While I like the Ole Miss vs. Vandy game, it would be nice to go back to playing Tennessee and Georgia annually, as Ole Miss has done in the past (fun fact: Ole Miss has played Tennessee more times than it has played Alabama).
Does the Third Saturday matter to more than just two fan bases? Kevin C. Cox, Getty.
Roll Bama Roll (two respondents):
Slice of Life: I'm conflicted. As a Bama fan, I'm supposed to champion the historical importance of the Third Saturday in October, but that rivalry hasn't meant a whole lot to me personally. Especially not lately. I do think that adding another game would be good for reinforcing the interconnectedness of the conference, but it has some obvious pitfalls.
I'm less concerned with losing bowl teams, and more concerned with losing quality OOC games and unnecessarily increasing the difficulty of the path to a national championship. I think nine conference games would result in a two-loss champion much more often, and I'm not convinced that the supposed increased emphasis on strength of schedule will offset those missteps.
My personal (and heretical) vote? I'd give up the rivalry to stay at eight games.
Bammer: Yes and yes. For starters I love the idea of a nine-game SEC schedule (more competitive games is always a plus in my book). And honestly, who wants to see Bama (or anyone else for that matter) play Georgia State? To me it just means the Alabama starters risk injury against a team our walk-ons could beat.
I know we want to believe the SEC is a juggernaut from top to bottom but that simply isn't the case. Like it or not, the bottom half of the SEC is just as bad as the bottom half of any other BCS conference. So, adding an extra game shouldn't make that much of a difference, at least of the best the SEC has to offer. I think it says a lot about where a program currently stands if you have to schedule a cupcake to ensure making a post-season bowl.
I am also one of the those fans who cares more about the success of Alabama than that of the SEC as a whole. Call me selfish or just a good ole gump but, for example, when I hear Texas A&M signs a five-star QB, I don't jump for joy. And I seriously doubt other SEC schools enjoy watching Alabama win yet again another national championship.
So, I want the Third Saturday in October to continue. Why? Because that game means a lot to Alabama and to Tennessee. It may sound petty and old school, but rivalries are what the SEC and college football were founded on. That has to mean something.
What about teams with non-SEC rivals? Streeter Lecka, Getty.
Garnet and Black Attack (South Carolina): I'm going to disagree with Tryptic and say I'm in favor. It's what the SEC has to do, both to benefit its strength-of-schedule rankings for the upcoming College Football Playoff, as well as to remain competitive at the all-important television bargaining table, where the SEC will struggle against the conferences that are taking the plunge, if it doesn't follow suit.
There are, of course, some drawbacks. The mid-range programs that rely on cupcake OOC games to become bowl-eligible will have more trouble doing so. (Remember those Kentucky teams that made bowls despite only winning a couple of SEC games?) It will also make it harder for programs to schedule marquee OOC games, particularly the ones that already play an OOC in-state rival. South Carolina won't be playing North Carolina too often if we go to a nine-game conference slate, and losing those games represents a real loss for the fans. However, the extra conference game should largely make up for lost fan interest there.
And The Valley Shook (LSU): What does LSU-UF mean to me? Nothing, other than it is a good game, and I like good games. But the SEC is not doing us a solid by preserving our rivalry with Florida. It is nowhere near the same level as Bama-UT or UGA-Auburn, games that have a century's worth of history and intensity. Trying to equate them is fundamentally dishonest. So, honestly, LSU fans would prefer playing every team in the East with no regard to rivalries. If it means so much to Bama, they can schedule Tennessee as an out-of-conference game in the years the game is not in the rotation.
That said, we're willing to play nice and, once again, take it for the good of the conference. We'll keep playing Florida so the rest of y'all can keep your rivalries, so long as we go to nine games and we do something about these ridiculously unfair bridge schedules. It's easy to say, "you play who is on your schedule," when you are drawing a down Tennessee squad and Kentucky while your biggest competition for the division title is playing Florida and Georgia.
Last year, the West Division, and the national title to some extent, was decided by scheduling. The top three teams in the West all went 1-1 against each other. The East had three 10-win teams. One of the West teams played two of them, going 1-1; another played one and lost; and the last played none of them and therefore won the division. LSU was the only top-three West school to beat a top-three East school last season, and it got sent to the crappiest bowl, while the team that played none of them played for the national title. The tiebreaker was, in effect, fewer games played against the top three in the East.
Perhaps that gives some small insight into why LSU fans are so upset. This is not to take away from Alabama's dynasty. They are a great team, but scheduling has absolutely favored them and played a large part on both of their titles.