A number of conferences have moved to a nine-game conference football schedule, but the SEC will not be following that trend. Instead, the SEC schools voted to stick with an eight-game conference schedule while tweaking the non-conference scheduling rules to guarantee each team plays at least one notable opponent every season.
Beginning in 2016, each SEC team will play six games against its division opponents and two games against non-division opponents. One of those two will be an annual game against a rival opponent. The other non-division opponent will rotate each year. When it comes to non-conference scheduling, each team will be required to schedule at least one opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12. While now an official requirement, that won't change much as most SEC teams have played a similar schedule in the recent past. The Big Ten has implemented a plan to no longer schedule FCS opponents, but the SEC will not follow suit there either. SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the conference discussed removing FCS opponents from future schedules, but opted against that idea to support teams from all levels, according to CBSSports.com.
"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," Slive said, via a release. "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."
The decision to stick with an eight-game conference schedule comes as a bit of a surprise. The Pac-12 and Big 12 already play nine games in conference while the Big Ten will begin doing so in 2016. Not only does a ninth conference game help improve strength of schedule -- especially if it replaces an FCS opponent -- but it also helps preserve traditional rivalries, even at the expense of adding seven more losses to the aggregate record.
The 6-1-1 schedule format will mean each team will play an annual rivalry. That means yearly matchups between Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Missouri, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Texas A&M-South Carolina.
The adopted plan isn't far off from the idea Alabama coach Nick Saban advocated for in the past. His idea was to play a nine-game conference schedule with one annual non-division opponent and two non-division games against rotating opponents. The new plan is essentially the eight-game version of his plan. While the SEC spurned the idea of a nine-game conference schedule, the requirement to play a school from a major conference could add to the non-conference schedule, which as SB Nation's Peter Berkes wrote, could be the best of all:
High-profile out-of-conference games are the sauce to the meat of the college football season. They provide huge flavor in relatively small amounts, and without them, it's all just kind of dry. A nine-game conference schedule across the major conferences could rob the college football public of its sauce. I don't know about you, but I like sauce.