The ACC is going with an 8-game conference schedule, so let's break down what that could mean for the SEC
The ACC is treating divisions like VCRs. Throw them in the trash, adapt and move on something that suits the new age.
On Tuesday, we found out that the ACC will be going with the 3-5-5 conference scheduling model beginning in 2023, which means each team will have 3 permanent rivals and then 5 rotating home-and-homes. That means everyone will face each other at least once during a 3-year stretch.
They’re the first Power 5 conference to officially announce a future scheduling model. As we wait to hear from the Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC about their future plans, we can only speculate.
Based on the way things played out at the SEC meetings, we know that the conference is debating the 1-7-7 model (an 8-game conference schedule) vs. the 3-6-6 model (a 9-game conference schedule). Because the SEC will have 16 teams with Oklahoma and Texas set to join, we know that the SEC cannot simply copy the ACC. Shoot, it can’t copy anyone.
The ACC is also unique in that it has Notre Dame playing 5 ACC teams annually as part of its current deal with the conference. No other conference has that type of obligation to fulfill, which makes the ACC 1 of 1.
So how could this impact the SEC?
The most boring answer to that is to say, well, it doesn’t. The SEC is going to act independently and not decide one model or another just because the ACC did. Andy Staples brought this point up:
Those two things really aren’t related. ACC stuck with eight because 14 schools make this make sense and because five ACC schools a year have to play a de facto conference game against Notre Dame. https://t.co/DgAJUckZcd
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) June 28, 2022
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If you’re in favor of the SEC going with a 3-6-6 model, that logic would preserve that scenario for the SEC. Lord knows there are plenty of SEC fans who want to preserve those permanent rivalries or ensure that we get Texas and Texas A&M playing football on an annual basis (I came up with a way to make sure that they play annually regardless of schedule model).
I don’t think it’s fair to totally dismiss the potential impact on the SEC. Since it added Arkansas and South Carolina, the SEC has never existed in a time in which it played more conference games than any other major conference. The ACC going with an 8-game conference schedule opens up that possibility.
Also remember that Nick Saban said at SEC meetings that while he supported a 9-game conference schedule, it made sense to look around to see what other conferences were doing. He’s right. There are too many moving pieces to lock into one specific model without having intel about the future scheduling model for Power 5 conferences and the future Playoff structure (more on that in a bit).
Think about this: If every Power 5 conference switches to an 8-game conference schedule, why would it make sense for the 16-team SEC superconference to play a 9-game conference schedule?
The correct answer is: “It wouldn’t.”
At least not from a competitive standpoint. We can all agree that preserving rivalries is all well and good, but the SEC’s main focus has always been on creating its best possible path to the postseason. In the BCS and Playoff era, nobody did that better than the SEC, which had 15 of its past 16 champs play for a national title. The Big Ten didn’t do it better by switching to the 9-game conference schedule in 2016 and promptly watching its next 3 conference champs get left out of the Playoff.
Sorry if I sound like a broken record here, but these numbers need to be remembered:
Note: 2020 was excluded because we had atypical schedule formats
In addition to wanting to preserve certain nonconference rivalries, I can’t help but think some of those numbers led to resistance to the 9-game conference schedule at SEC meetings.
I asked the question a month ago if the SEC would perhaps continue its 8-game conference schedule if everyone else went to the 9-game model. Now, we don’t have to wonder about that and whether that would’ve been a bad look for the league. The SEC has always had at least 1 other Power 5 conference that also played an 8-game conference schedule. From 2016-present, that’s been the ACC.
The Alliance’s scheduling plan for nonconference play is supposed to include 2 matchups against one another (an ACC team would face 1 Big Ten opponent and 1 Pac-12 opponent). That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have to go with an 8-game conference model to make that work. Both currently have the 9-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 announcement is expected to come at its media days event at the end of July, but that could change if we do get the announcement that the Playoff is expanding in 2026.
That’s the other part of this. The SEC’s changes will coincide with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas. They’re not set to join the conference until 2025. Unless we see some buyout fee paid — it would probably be upwards of 4-5 times as much as the $18 million buyout UCF, Houston and Cincinnati paid to join the Big 12 in 2023 — I wouldn’t expect that date to change. Weird? Yeah, but the SEC doesn’t have any urgency to add Oklahoma and Texas if the Playoff isn’t expanding until 2026.
It’s possible that we’re going to see future scheduling announcements from every other non-SEC Power 5 program. All of them, you could argue, have a reason to restructure after the NCAA’s ruling in May that divisions are no longer required to host a conference championship (excluding the Big 12 because it played every team in the conference annually).
- ACC: Coastal division has 1 title in past 10 years
- Big Ten: West division has 0 titles in past 8 years
- Pac-12: South division has 2 titles in 11 years
- SEC: East division has 1 title in past 13 years
There’s imbalance everywhere. Now is as good a time as any to scrap divisions. That, we know, is happening.
The ACC’s announcement Tuesday should be seen as a positive for the 8-game schedule enthusiasts who would prefer to preserve the ACC-SEC nonconference rivalries like Clemson-South Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State.
Maybe that means the SEC is closer to the 1-7-7 model. That door definitely didn’t shut.
If anything, I think the SEC’s door to an 8-game schedule with a 1-7-7 model cracked open slightly more Tuesday. There’s no guarantee that the SEC agrees to walk through it. Nothing really feels imminent until we hear about the next Playoff model. If you want a 9-game conference model for the SEC, Playoff expansion is the most likely way for that to happen. That might not please everyone, but at this point, it would surprise me if the SEC went with a 9-game conference schedule if the Playoff stays at 4.
In the grand scheme of things, maybe the ACC’s 3-5-5 announcement will be a non-factor for the SEC’s decision. If nothing else, it was a reminder that change is coming.
You know, just in case the last year didn’t provide enough of that.