There’s been a lot of speculation of late that the impending SEC Network being put together with ESPN eventually will force the conference’s schools to go against the majority of coaches’ wishes and implement a nine-game conference schedule.
Already last year, when the conference decided to stay at eight conference games, Commissioner Mike Slive noted that the SEC was “mindful that moving forward our strength of schedule will be a factor” as the new championship playoff takes effect. “This is something that we’re going to watch,” he added.
And, of course, Alabama’s Nick Saban is on record as favoring a nine-game schedule because of the cross-divisional scheduling problems. “Under the current system we have guys who will never play Georgia or Florida,” Saban said last summer. “That’s not right. If we have to play nine conference games to get that fixed then that is what we need to do.”
So the nine-game thing was already looming on the horizon. Now, the thinking goes, the arrival of the SEC Network will make the change inevitable because the so-called worldwide leader in sports will be calling the shots in the new television partnership, and they’d much rather be selling, say, Georgia vs. Texas A&M or even Tennessee vs. Mississippi State than a game against one of the directional-named cupcakes that would be displaced on SEC schools’ schedules by a ninth conference opponent.
Mark Richt was asked about the prospects of a nine-game conference slate this week at a Touchdown Club meeting in Athens and the Athens Banner-Herald reports he seemed to think that’s most likely to happen if the conference expands again to 16 teams. If the SEC expands again, Richt said, “I think we would have to go to nine” conference games.
But Richt echoed the same concerns about such a move that athletic director Greg McGarity brought up last year during the discussion over the difficulty of maintaining cross-division rivalries like Georgia-Auburn without going to nine conference games. At the time, McGarity pointed out that for schools like Alabama whose in-state rival is also an SEC team, a ninth game wouldn’t be as big a problem. But for Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, who play rivals from other major conferences, it would take away any scheduling flexibility.
As Richt put it in Athens this week: “These other schools have nine but they’re not going to have that 10th game that is a team that is BCS-quality or ACC-quality or whatever you want to say. … I voted against it because if we have nine, plus Tech and then if we want to do something like Clemson like we did this year, you’re talking about 11 out of 12 games that are pretty stout.”
Still, money talks, and the likelihood of a ninth conference game has increased dramatically. Which raises the question again of whether the limitations that would put on the schedulers might one day force UGA to consider dropping its annual football game with Georgia Tech.
Other great college football rivalries have fallen victim to the continuing conference reshuffling in recent years, but, as I’ve written before here, I’d be very much against dropping Tech from the Bulldogs’ schedule.
While the rivalry is not what it once was, most of the games in recent years have been fairly competitive, even if Georgia usually wins, and the rivalry between the two schools is one of the most storied in college athletics.
A tradition like that is one of the things that keeps college football from becoming just a development league for the NFL.
What do you think about the ramifications of a nine-game conference schedule? Should rivalry games like Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson and Florida-Florida State be sacrosanct, or has their time passed?
UPDATE: Outgoing UGA President Michael Adams said at a Thursday news conference that he doesn’t see the Bulldogs dropping the Yellow Jackets if the SEC expands to nine conference games, Flagpole reports. “There is enough history between Georgia and Georgia Tech that we would want to continue beat them nine out of every ten years,” he said. “I don’t see that going away.”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg