A permanent switch to the 10-game SEC schedule would be awesome, but there's only 1 way it ever happens
Somewhere between talking about quarantines and myocarditis the last month, it hit me. I’m sure it hit you, too.
The 10-game SEC schedule is going to be incredible entertainment.
Say goodbye to Cupcake Week and say hello to 25% more SEC football. What’s not to love?
If we come out of this bizarre year getting more SEC football than ever, that’s a major win. The SEC’s Nov. 14 slate combined with Masters Weekend has potential to the a sports TV day that, dare I say, might top opening weekend of March Madness. Seriously. It could be that good.
The question that many people probably wondered about as the 10-game schedule was released in its entirety Monday night was simple — why can’t we do this every year?
That answer isn’t complicated when you understand that everything the SEC does from a scheduling standpoint is about creating the best possible path to win a national championship. That’s why the league only plays 8 conference games while the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 all play 9 conference games (the ACC plays 8).
That philosophy, in non-pandemic times, works. It’s not a coincidence that the SEC and ACC sent its conference champion to the Playoff every season of its 6-year history. The SEC believes it has a tougher 8-game conference schedule than the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 playing an extra conference game, and who’s to say that’s wrong? The SEC’s 7 Playoff teams went 8-0 in nonconference games vs. Power 5 teams with an average margin of victory of 20.8 points.
In post-pandemic times, the only way the SEC would ever go to a 10-game conference schedule is if every other Power 5 league did it. And to be honest, even then, I’m not 100% certain that the SEC would make the push.
Go back to 2016 when the Big Ten went from an 8-game conference schedule to a 9-game conference schedule. I say this all the time, so apologies if you’ve heard it before. The Big Ten, which joined the Big 12 and Pac-12 with the 9-game conference schedule, expected the rest of the Power 5 to follow suit. That didn’t happen. What instead happened was more of a divide than ever among the Power 5 leagues (that proved to be somewhat prophetic).
While the Big Ten boasted annually about its challenging schedule and competitive product to sell to fans, the SEC stood pat and essentially dared the College Football Playoff selection committee to hold that against the league. That didn’t happen, either.
So why then, would any other league step forward to add more conference games again?
That’s the holdup.
There is, however, a potential silver lining to this pandemic season that could ultimately force this scenario to happen. I hate that this even crossed my mind, but it’s reality. If Group of 5/FCS programs get cut left and right without getting these 7-figure paydays from Power 5 teams for nonconference games in 2020, well, that future scheduling pool could change. It’s hard to justify those matchups representing 1/3 or 1/4 of the schedule if there are fewer and fewer Group of 5/FCS programs to strike deals with.
Don’t consider that my way of saying I hope those programs fold. I don’t. It’s been brutal these past few months to see somewhat regular news about non-revenue programs being cut at schools of all levels.
But a 10-game conference schedule for any Power 5 league in a post-pandemic world would take a unanimous opinion from the Power 5 leaders. Rare that is these days.
It seems like it would take them taking a look around and going, “hey, what if we gave this idea a whirl?” TV packages would certainly be more valuable. The idea of having 1 nonconference game against a Power 5 team and only 1 against a Group of 5/FCS team would certainly be a more valuable commodity, especially at a time when universities could be looking for ways to financially dig their way out of a post-pandemic world.
This is still ultimately going to take, in some way, other Power 5 commissioners talking Greg Sankey and SEC athletic directors into doing this. The spike in potential TV revenue would have to outweigh the loss of at least 1 home game.
In an average year with an 8-game conference schedule, SEC teams get at least 7 home games (4 in conference play and at least 3 in nonconference play) with potential for 8 based on the Power 5 nonconference matchup. In an average year with a 10-game conference schedule with 1 nonconference Power 5 foe and 1 Group of 5/FCS foe, SEC teams would only get a minimum of 6 home games and potential for 7 based on the nonconference matchup.
Again, that’s why this isn’t simply “a 10-game conference schedule is more entertaining the SEC should totally make that the plan moving forward.” It’s not as if SEC leaders had the same sort of realization the last few months. There’s a reason this hasn’t happened yet. And if I was betting on it today, I wouldn’t bet on it ever happening after 2020.
The selection committee hasn’t put forth any sort of legislation demanding that Power 5 teams must play “X” amount of conference games. SEC football is going to consume this region of the country no matter how many conference games the league plays. It’s not like Sankey is going to schedule a meeting with the league’s athletic directors and say “did you guys see the response we got from that schedule announcement? We’ve gotta do that more often!”
Nope. The SEC struck the perfect balance, which was in motion before the Playoff era when the league won 7 consecutive national titles. That fueled the push from the BCS to the Playoff system. The fact that the SEC has half of the Playoff era national championships along with such a dominant track record from its elite teams in nonconference play justifies why the conference (along with the ACC) doesn’t get blowback from the selection committee for only playing 8 league games while the majority of the Power 5 plays 9.
If there’s a push to the 10-game conference schedule, it won’t come from the SEC.
Enjoy it while it lasts. It’ll take a specific, unlikely path for it to happen after 2020.