The SEC’s athletic directors are meeting this week in Nashville on what to do about the football schedule in the wake of expansion, and it sounds like UGA’s Greg McGarity is beginning to waver in his opposition to adding a ninth conference game each season.
That’s because, basically, the SEC schools giving up a cupcake nonconference game is the best, least disruptive way to ensure that the traditional cross-divisional Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee rivalries are maintained as an annual fixture.
Up to now, McGarity was like most coaches and AD’s in the conference: opposed to a nine-game conference schedule — despite the fact it would most likely draw more TV money — because they consider it tough enough to survive eight SEC games and don’t want to give up one of those sure home wins they buy from lesser programs hungry for the bucks.
Plus, they say, playing nine conference games would make it very difficult to pull the trigger on the occasional nonconference game against a big-time opponent. That’s especially true for schools like Georgia, Florida and South Carolina that are locked into a game every year against a nonconference in-state rival from a BCS conference.
But as this week’s SEC meetings approached, McGarity said he at least supports discussing the option of nine conference games.
The problem is that if the conference keeps the eight-game schedule in its current configuration, you’ll only play the teams from the other division twice every 12 years, aside from your permanent cross-divisional rival. A lot of folks think that’s too long, which has put the possibility of giving up the permanent rivalries on the table.
Really, only the only permanent rivalries that anyone cares about are Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee. The others — Florida-LSU, Arkansas-South Carolina, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Kentucky-Mississippi State and Missouri-Texas A&M — don’t have much of a history or haven’t really developed any traction as rivalries.
Talking with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, McGarity asked, “At some point, does the conference make a statement preserving the historical pieces? I hope that there will be a level of concern and compassion for those two rivalry games,” but he acknowledged that, “the worry there is that it would be a 10-4 vote.”
With nine conference games, one of the three cross-divisional games could still be devoted to the permanent rivalries. But as McGarity acknowledged to The Birmingham News, going to nine conference games, as other conferences are doing, also would offer a more attractive product on the field to the ticket-buying fans.
“Many SEC fans have a decision whether to come to our game, or sit at home in front of their 60-inch HDTV,” McGarity said. “Would they be more likely to come to a conference game as opposed to a guaranteed [nonconference] game? I’d probably say yes.”
Other possible solutions to the problem have been floated, including petitioning the NCAA for a waiver to its rule that requires conferences with a championship game to be split into two divisions of at least six teams with each team in a division playing every other team in its division. If the SEC weren’t divided into divisions and simply had the two top teams playing in its championship game, the traditional rivalries would be protected. But whether the schools that don’t really care about traditional cross-divisional rivalries would support such a major upheaval just to protect Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee is questionable.
And so it is that you have McGarity willing to talk about adding a ninth conference game. Because, as he told the Times Free Press, “Our top priority in the whole scheduling discussion is maintaining the rivalry with Auburn.”
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg