One of the ramifications of the SEC expanding from 12 teams to 14 teams prior to the 2012 season was the talk of expanding the in-conference schedule. The SEC currently employs an 8-game in-conference schedule which is a combination of six divisional opponents and two cross divisional games.
If you take a look at the week 12 schedule, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are three SEC vs SEC games (none overly exciting), seven cupcakes and one semi-cupcake (Mizzou vs Syracuse). Five of the SEC games will be broadcast as Pay-Per-View telecasts. Yes, it’s the worst weekend of football this season by a long shot.
Most pundits believe that moving to a 9-game SEC schedule will happen at some point. We have speculated here that it will happen in conjunction with launching an SEC Network. Adding an in-conference game will be a major bargaining chip as the SEC negotiates with a network like ESPN to launch the SEC Network.
It doesn’t take a television executive to realize that another weekend of in-conference matchups is far more interesting to fans than a Saturday full of opponents like Wofford, Samford, Georgia Southern, Alabama A&M and Jacksonville State.
For many fans, due to the opponents and the number of PPV telecasts, this will be the first weekend of the season that they don’t want their team on the field.
Another piece to this puzzle is the move to a selection committee driven playoff and postseason structure. Strength of schedule will become more important, and this could facilitate more movement away from scheduling these cupcake games. It’s also been reported that the costs of these cupcake games which pay a smaller program to visit are going up dramatically. The costs of these extra home games are increasing while their importance diminishes.
As we’ve discussed before, these games are a major revenue stream for these smaller programs. As the major conferences reduce the number of cupcakes on the schedule, you’ll see the money and resources in the college game become more concentrated in the major conferences. The cupcake games are currently a way that the big television money trickles down into the smaller programs.
In addition to moving to a 9-game SEC schedule, it would be interesting to see the SEC schedule a one-off series against another conference like the ACC or the Big 12 in which every SEC team plays a team from the ACC on a given Saturday (likely early in the season). The teams could be seeded according to previous year’s record. It would eliminate another “cupcake” weekend for most of the SEC schools and be a very exciting non-conference weekend. Fans would thoroughly enjoy this.