October 2, 2023

The great SEC schedule debate shouldn’t even be a debate

The SEC’s Grand Debate — which shouldn’t even be a debate — has somehow turned into another year, dominating another round of meetings in Destin, Florida.

It has left Missouri football head coach Eli Drinkwitz as baffled as ever.

“I am a history teacher by profession,” Drinkwitz told reporters on Tuesday. “And every time I come to one of these meetings, I’m amazed that the 13 colonies actually formed a union, but we can’t agree on an eight or nine game schedule.”

Yes, the SEC’s ongoing debate about how often to play and who to play often is back. Most leagues play nine games during the conference. The SEC has stubbornly stuck to eight. With the arrival of Texas and Oklahoma in 2024 bringing the conference to 16 members, the need for more intra-conference games is evident.

In addition to division elimination, each team with a nine-game playing field would be able to keep three permanent rivals and then cycle through the remaining 12 teams every two years. Each team would visit each campus every four years (with the exception of a few rivalries between neutral locations).

Yes, it insures more cumulative losses as a league game causes someone to lose in the league rather than a probable win against a non-conference cupcake. It also creates more tension.

So while most of the league’s traditional lower half favors eight, Drinkwitz and Missouri see it differently…and correctly.

“The SEC is the best conference because of our fans and our passionate fan bases,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I think you lose sight of it when you say it’s not fair to me.”

Namely, if you are an SEC football program, then you should be playing SEC football as much as possible. For your players. For your fans. For your gym.

If not, what is the point of this operation?

You can laugh about bringing up the interests of the fans, i.e. the people funding the operation, during college athletics, but it’s nice when someone mentions them.

College football is in the midst of a dramatic change due to a rescheduling of conferences motivated by television dollars. That’s what brought Texas and Oklahoma to the league in the first place. It’s what led the Big Ten to add USC and UCLA a year later. It’s what has just about everyone in the country freaked out about finding higher and more lucrative ground.

Is the SEC going to cause such a stir by adding the Longhorns and Sooners and then just sticking their toe in the water and not maximizing their arrival?

Under an eight-game schedule, each SEC team would have one permanent rival, then play seven of the remaining teams one year and the other seven the next. For example, Alabama would keep its annual game against Auburn, but would no longer play LSU and Tennessee every season. Who wants that?

If the SEC sticks to an eight-game conference schedule, matchups like LSU vs.  Alabama are only played every other year.  (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If the SEC sticks to an eight-game conference schedule, matchups like LSU vs. Alabama are only played every other year. (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Or in the case of Texas and OU, they would meet each year in Dallas for the annual Red River game, but the highly anticipated and equally intense Texas-Texas A&M clash would only happen every other year. It’s an absurd concept.

College football fans want LSU-Bama and A&M-UT and Georgia-Auburn, and all that. If television is going to screw up traditions, rivalries and history, it can’t cheat fans of the good games, leaving a bottom-feeder to plan The Citadel of Middle Tennessee because he fears an extra loss.

Is the traditional SEC game at the end of November against an FCS opponent worth keeping? Are the fans of those teams really being fooled by that?

The universities advocating for less SEC football should perhaps reconsider whether they really belong in the SEC…and not just for revenue. There are plenty of other teams eager to take their place and take on the challenge.

Not only is a nine-game schedule the obvious choice for the SEC, it’s the only choice. More Games. More good games. More rivalry games. More SEC, where they claim it just means more.

Or as Drinkwitz puts it, something for the fans, who are the only reason this whole thing has gotten as big as it is.

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