SEC administrators hoping for a smooth transition to an expanded nine-game conference schedule could face stiff opposition on Florida’s sandy beaches next week when spring sessions begin Tuesday in Miramar Beach.
Alabama is on the verge of a surprise eight-game conference confirmation after Nick Saban expressed frustration with the SEC’s proposed three permanent rivals for the Tide (Auburn, LSU and Tennessee) should the league expand to nine games. Should the program heed Saban’s rallying cry, the Tide would join forces with at least four schools to oppose the proposal for a nine-game schedule beginning in 2024, sources tell 247Sports. AdministratorStudents from 16 SEC schools, including prospective members Oklahoma and Texas, meet Tuesday through Friday to discuss two models:
An eight-game format with one permanent rival and seven rotating opponents
A nine-game format with three permanent rivals and six rotating opponents.
Still, opinions and support may change (again) as administrators wait to hear the SEC’s latest financial update and get more analysis on the strength of the schedule in the new era of the 12-team college football playoffs.
Seven schools prefer to widen the schedule to nine games, sources told 247Sports this week. Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina are against the nine-game model. Both models eliminate the SEC’s eastern and western divisions and require new tiebreaker rules.
The debate over the two football planning models is a holdover from last year’s SEC meetings. The conference postponed a June 2022 vote, choosing to await further details on the not-yet-expanded College Football Playoffs. The SEC has been urging its members throughout the winter and spring to make a decision, and a vote is expected next week. A proposal must be approved by sporting directors on Thursday and voted on by university presidents and chancellors on Friday.
The SEC will expand to 16 teams in 2024 when Oklahoma and Texas exit the top 12. SEC Commissioner Greg Sanky has called for drastic schedule changes in football as the conference aims to diversify encounters and break up divisions after the conference’s second expansion in 12 years.
Each proposal has its own problems.
The eight-game model doesn’t protect additional rivalry games like Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, LSU-Ole Miss and Florida-Tennessee — or the long-awaited renewal of Texas-Texas A&M when the Longhorns join the SEC. The three-game model would ensure that all of these games remain on the schedule each season.
Meanwhile, time is running out for the nine-game proposal that seemed like a passing when it was tabled at last summer’s SEC meetings. Only four of the 16-member conference (Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas) have released their schedules for nine conference games beginning in 2024. The remaining 12 schools have four non-conference games scheduled for 2024, and nine schools are fully booked through 2026.
In theory, the conference could choose to delay the nine-game model until 2026. The additional time would alleviate most scheduling issues and allow the SEC to examine the 12-team playoff selection process and determine whether members should continue to be required to schedule an unscheduled game. Conference opponents of a Power Five conference. The CFP will be expanded to its new format in 2024.
Twelve SEC schools would have to reschedule or cancel up to 38 non-conference games through 2037 when a nine-game format starts in 2024. Contracts for non-conference games differ from school to school and game to game, but cost millions of dollars and business relationships with other conferences are at stake. To make matters worse, ESPN is the SEC’s exclusive media rights holder as of 2024. The SEC has not yet told members how much money ESPN will pay for additional conference games, sources tell 247Sports. ESPN is poised to pay nearly $1 billion starting next year as part of its 2020-updated deal. It’s not yet known if ESPN has provided the SEC with a final figure for the planned additional inventory, as the media conglomerate continues to face an avalanche of layoffs and cuts this year.
Meanwhile, three schools remain undecided in the planning debate — Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee — and Vanderbilt has remained silent in industry circles, sources told 247Sports. Oklahoma and Texas both support the nine-game model. Texas and Oklahoma administrators will attend SEC meetings for the first time next week, but will not be allowed to vote.
Alabama had long advocated expanding the conference schedule to nine games, but Nick Saban In an interview with Sports Illustrated in March, he expressed dissatisfaction with the SEC’s predictions for the Tide’s three stalwarts (Auburn, LSU and Tennessee). Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne has also changed his mind and is said to welcome the discourse from peers.
Alabama and Florida built the conference’s most demanding non-conference schedules over the next decade. Alabama has two Power Five opponents on the roster every year from 2024 through 2034, and Florida has three Power Five opponents in four of nine seasons. Florida supports the nine-game model.
Missouri, a nine conference game sponsor, ranks worst with a fully booked game schedule through 2032. The Tigers will have to cancel at least eight non-conference games starting in 2024 when the game schedule expands to nine conference games. Between 2026 and 2035, Mizzou is scheduled to face two Power Five opponents four times.
The Big Ten discussed reducing conference games from nine to eight in 2022, but opted to stick with nine. The Big 12 play nine conference games. The ACC chose to stick with an eight-game schedule after considering a nine-game format in 2022. Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff expressed a desire to downsize its conference from nine to eight participants in early 2022, but no decision has been made yet.
4 and out
These SEC teams are ready to plan conference games starting at 9…
State of Mississippi
* 4 non-conference games in 2027
#4 non-conference games in 2030
$4 non-conference games in 2028
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