The SEC is expected to finalize its football schedule format for 2024 and beyond next week when coaches and administrators meet in Miramar Beach, Fla., for the league’s annual spring meetings. One of the main topics on the table will be whether the league moves to a nine-game schedule after expansion — a move that, according to multiple reports, is quickly losing support.
Administrators have been discussing the proposed models since the conference announced in June 2021 that it would add Texas and Oklahoma. The finalists are a nine-game format that would include three permanent rivals and six rotating opponents or an eight-game format consisting of one permanent rival and seven rotating fixtures.
Brandon Marcello of 247Sports reports that Alabama coach Nick Saban is emerging as one of the main opposing voices to the nine-game model. Saban has long supported adding games to the SEC schedule as far back as 2012 when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league.
“When you increase the size of the league by 15 percent, you almost have to play more games to get a true indication of who the best team in the league is,” he said in 2012. “We should come up with some format in the future where every player in the league has an opportunity to plays with every team in the league. We have had it in the past. This format won’t necessarily give every player the opportunity to do that.”
Both proposed formats going into 2024 give teams a chance to face every opponent in the conference every other year, which is close to meeting Saban’s wishes. However, Saban seemed a little frustrated in March when he learned of three permanent opponents being proposed for the Crimson Tide.
“I have always been an advocate of playing more [conference] games,” Saban told Sports Illustrated. “But if you play more games, I think you have to fix three [opponents] right. They give us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don’t know how they got there [decision].”
Marcello reports that Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina have opposed the nine-game model, while Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss remain undecided on their votes. Vanderbilt did not say which proposal he favors.
Every format has its drawbacks. The eight-game model would eliminate the current perennial opponent, meaning rivalries like Auburn-Georgia, Tennessee-Alabama and others could be in danger of not being played on an annual basis. A nine-game model would keep the vast majority of rivalries intact, but could create a huge disparity in team schedules.
An expanded 12-team College Football Playoff is also a factor involved. It wasn’t a twinkle in administrators’ eyes when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the SEC, but now the path to winning one of those spots has changed dramatically since the four-team model was announced in the spring of 2012.
Additionally, Marcello notes, 12 of the 16 soon-to-be conference teams have four-game non-conference schedules in 2024, and nine are fully booked through 2026.
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