Adding a ninth SEC game would have pluses and minuses for UGA fans

sec-logo-Despite all the chatter since the announcement of the SEC Network last week about the SEC increasing from eight conference games to a nine-game conference schedule in football, the change apparently won’t happen before 2016.

Tony Barnhart reports CBSSports.com has been told the scheduling formats for 2014 and 2015 will be presented later this month at the conference’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla., and both seasons call for sticking with the eight-game model.

Still, the nine-game schedule is starting to look inevitable.

Last week at the announcement of the SEC’s new partnership with ESPN, Commissioner Mike Slive took note of the the upcoming College Football Playoff and the strength of scheduling factor that its selection committee will take into account. “Obviously the playoff impacts how we think about scheduling,” Slive said. “Strength of scheduling will be a significant component in the committee’s analysis. As far as I am concerned, I am open-minded about how we should schedule, and I anticipate continued discussions about how we schedule in the future.”

That sounds pretty close to a nonendorsement endorsement of a ninth conference game, and Slive usually gets what he wants, even if most of the conference’s coaches are against the idea and the athletic directors and school presidents (who actually will make the decision) appear divided on it.

As Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity told Barnhart, “I can’t really say how much support there is for it, but given the changes that are happening, I don’t think the subject is going away.”

Should UGA fans be for or against the Dogs playing nine conference games each year? I’ve gone back and forth on the issue, which has a lot of moving parts to it.

There are several factors that favor the nine-game schedule, most notable being the strength of schedule business, especially with the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 on board with playing nine conference games. The impetus behind the move to the playoff was, frankly, the rest of the country being sick of the SEC owning the BCS national championship. Giving the selection committee any ammunition for downgrading an SEC contender trying to make the playoff seems unwise.

Then there’s TV money. The SEC Network is going to need programming inventory and doesn’t want to have to deal with too many of those cupcake weekends when everybody in the league plays lesser nonconference opponents. And, like Slive, ESPN usually gets what it wants.

And there’s also the fact that SEC schools are trying to keep fans interested in buying tickets and showing up for games, which is made more difficult by scheduling three or four jabronis a year. You don’t have to like outgoing UGA President Michael Adams to agree with what he had to say on the issue recently when talking with the Macon Telegraph. Adams, who said he believes there’s “a lot of motion in the direction of nine games right now,” noted that “The fans don’t like the games against some of the competition that we play, and I don’t blame them. … I think ultimately what will win out is fans are properly tired of seeing two or three really poor games per year. I do get concerned about the impact of more SEC games on the student-athlete. And one of the reasons I think we’ve been successful thus far in holding to an eight-game schedule is that. But I think a lot of the motion is in the direction of nine games right now.”

Among the arguments against a nine-game conference schedule: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky play a major nonconference in-state rival every year, and so would face 10 tough games each season and have less home scheduling flexibility. (And UGA officials have made it clear recently that even if the conference does go to nine games, rival Georgia Tech won’t be dropped from the schedule.)

Alabama's Nick Saban has been an outspoken supporter of adding a ninth conference game. (Associated Press)

Alabama's Nick Saban has been an outspoken supporter of adding a ninth conference game. (Associated Press)

Although Alabama doesn’t face that problem since its in-state rival, Auburn, is in its division of the SEC, Nick Saban has declared he wants his school still to schedule a major nonconference opponent every year, even with nine conference games, and he thinks everyone in the conference should do that. But, let’s face it, not every school would be likely to toe that line, meaning more cupcakes for some folks than for others.

Also, a nine-game conference schedule will require teams to have four conference games at home and five on the road every other year. The loss of a home game will hurt the bottom line at schools, though it’s possible (maybe even probable) that the payout each school will get from the new SEC Network will more than make up the difference.

One more factor arguing against the move: A ninth SEC game will make it that much more difficult for the conference’s lesser programs like Kentucky to get enough wins to qualify for a bowl game.

Coaches like Florida’s Will Muschamp also argue that adding a ninth SEC opponent will simply make schedules too difficult. Some have even argued it could make it more difficult for the SEC champion to make it to the national championship, though that same argument was made when the conference added its championship game a couple of decades ago, and things worked out exactly the opposite.

Getting back to a UGA fan’s viewpoint of all this, while I’m glad that Adams and McGarity have said dropping the Tech rivalry is not a consideration for the Dogs, I’m troubled by the prospect of losing the occasional nonconference game against a quality opponent like Clemson. It’s bad enough that the Georgia-Clemson series, once one of the South’s great football rivalries, has been reduced to a couple of games per decade. A nine-game conference schedule likely would eliminate even that.

The Georgia-Clemson series, such as it is, might be a victim of adding a ninth SEC game. (Associated Press)

The Georgia-Clemson series, such as it is, might be a victim of adding a ninth SEC game. (Associated Press)

“My own personal opinion is the games like the Clemson game will go away,” Adams told the Telegraph. “And frankly that’s OK. If the trade-off is another SEC game or the Clemson game, I think that’s an OK trade-off. But if you go to nine games, and you play Tech, I don’t think those 11th or 12th games are likely against Clemson or Ohio State, for that matter.”

McGarity agreed. “The problem for us is that great nonconference games like Georgia-Clemson will probably have to go away,” he told Barnhart. “That is just the reality of this situation.”

But back on the plus side, adding a ninth conference game would make it easier to maintain cross-division permanent conference opponents without schools on each side of the east-west divide having to go too many years between playing everybody in the conference — one of Saban’s main arguments in favor of the nine-game schedule.

“Under the current setup a student-athlete could stay at one of our schools for four years and not play everybody in the conference,” Saban told CBS. “That’s not right. We should be able to tell him that if he signs with a school in the SEC and stays four years he will get to play against every team.”

Crossover permanent opponents is not an issue on which all the conference members are of one mind, but despite LSU’s continued whining about how unfair it is that they have to play Florida every year, I think protecting storied rivalries like Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee is likely to be a fairly high priority for the folks at ESPN.

As Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told Barnhart, “The Georgia-Auburn game is very important to the Auburn people. It is hard to imagine that game not being played on a yearly basis.”

So I’m still of a mixed mind on a nine-game schedule. I wouldn’t be crazy about having to play five conference road games every other year and I hate the idea of not being able to see Georgia meet Clemson. But losing a cupcake in favor of a conference opponent every year does sound enticing.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the SEC going to nine conference games and how it might impact the Dogs?

Got something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or some other aspect of UGA athletics? Or maybe a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? If so, send it to junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

29 comments Add your comment

Joey

May 8th, 2013
9:41 am

Instead of Tech every season, rotate the Jackets every other season with another nearby ACC team Clemson, NC, FSU, etc.

Jimmy

May 8th, 2013
9:43 am

We pay lots of money to sit in Sanford Stadium and it is disgraceful to have to watch 3 non-conference cupcake games. With a 12 game schedule 9 SEC games and Gawgia Teck still leaves room for 2 non-conference games. One against a cupcake is fine….leave the other one for an annual home & home swap with a tradional power like Oregon, Michigan, Nebraska. The paying fans deserve it.

NCDawg

May 8th, 2013
10:03 am

Yes, you probably need a couple of breathers during a gauntlet like the SEC schedule but no more than that. Going to 9 games is inevitable. That leaves room for 1 outside rivalry. How the new Playoff structure works out will determine how the other scheduling goes. If there is a definite strength of schedule factor in the equation the AD’s are going to have to be selective about their patsy selection. Maybe somebody should suggest a mulligan on 1 game every year. In other words, discount the weakest team on everyone’s schedule at the time of selection. That way you don’t total destroy the FCS schools by denying them the badly needed revenue they get for playing FBS schools.
In the end what we will see is a mad scramble to setup schedules to meet the playoff selection committee’s criterion. Teams with more than 2 non conference sisters of the poor on their schedule will be forced to back out of several agreements.

NCDawg

May 8th, 2013
10:04 am

For everyone complaining about the scheduling needs to remember that scheduling doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The other team has to agree to it as well. Many of the schools we as fans would like to see in Sanford stadium just do not want to make the commitment to do it. Michigan would never do it. Oregon won’t do it. The best you could hope for there is a neutral site game closer to them than to us.

ARdawg

May 8th, 2013
10:14 am

If there was as much focus and discussion to eliminating the cupcake games, this wouldn’t even matter. SOS should be a determining factor in deciding who plays in the playoff. Otherwise the field will fill up with those weak conferences.

Leave it at eight conference games and schedule stronger out of conference games. Expand the playoff to eight teams instead of four. Any team that can’t make a case of being the top 4 at the end of the year, has no bacon on the table for being considered in the top 8

Frosty Dawg

May 8th, 2013
10:20 am

I agree with Jimmy 100%. I’ll never understand all these permutations to preserve a couple of cupcake games. And you’ll never catch me whining that some other team has an easier time of it because they don’t have an in-state rivalry game every year. That’s their problem. Besides, I’m not so sure the Tech game isn’t one of our “cupcakes”!

Dog Gone

May 8th, 2013
11:21 am

In comparison to the other SEC schools, our ACC in-state rival is certainly the most “cupcake-ish!”

Among Free Shoes U, Clempsun, and the NATS, which school is more like New Mexico State or Coastal Carolina? The bugs, of course.

robodawg

May 8th, 2013
12:03 pm

If you stay at 8 games then it’s up to the individual schools to decide whether they need to boost their strength of schedule or not. If a school needs a selection committee boost, then don’t just schedule cupcakes. Problem solved.

But what TV wants, TV gets. Mike Slive will make sure of that.

NCDawg

May 8th, 2013
12:06 pm

It’s not just a matter of scheduling the high profile teams just because we WANT to folks. They have to be willing as well. Do you think an Oregon is going to want to fly all the way the Athens to play a game? Oklahoma won’t do it. Texas won’t. Why? Because it is just to damn far and the logistics are a nightmare. As I said before the best you could do is a neutral site and they’d want it to be in their backyard not ours.
Have you seen those teams ever complain that they tried to schedule a home and home with UGA and were turned down?
There you have it.

NCDawg

May 8th, 2013
12:11 pm

Do you think Bama fans are uber excited about Colorado St? How about Georgia St? And I bet they are psyched about Chattanooga! Come on people get some perspective.

Dawg72

May 8th, 2013
12:47 pm

Has anyone considered the Ga-Fla. being at a neutral site ramifications? No damn way I agree on a 9 game schedule unless we play 4 SEC games in Athens and 4 on the road with Fla in Jax. We could end up having only 3 SEC games in Athens every other year. This scenario is light years away from being acceptable from my prospective. If Slive let’s this happen he is going to be knee deep in you know what with UGA!

UGA Insider

May 8th, 2013
1:48 pm

UGA could be adding another LB to the 2013 recruiting class. A kid from Miami who was the #6 of 150 recruit per ESPN has decided that signing with FSU was a mistake and he wants FSU to grant him a release. He favors and has always favored UGA but said UGA has a better opportunity for him to play this year…

Stay tuned..

My-Guy

May 8th, 2013
3:22 pm

I don’t won’t UGA to drop Georgia Tech off our schedule, until the Georgia Bulldogs finally tie GT’s longest winning streak in the series by 8 years. We need to still keep this rivalry, had UGA beat GT in 1998 or 2008, I’d say ok then. Everytime UGA gets 7 years on Tech, we are one year away from tying their streak then we keep choking that opportunity away everytime then we have to start the streak all over again back to year 1. I’m looking forward to Georgia vs Georgia Tech 2016 in Athens, we have to win the 2013-2015 games first though.

NCDawg

May 8th, 2013
3:24 pm

UGA Insider – I read about that. The Question is whether FSU will grant him a release. If they don’t they could have major public relations nightmare on their hands. I’m not holding my breath either way.

Pdx

May 8th, 2013
3:26 pm

Ncdawg…..uga and Oregon had a home and home scheduled in the next couple of years and GA cancelled….fact

AltamahaDawg

May 8th, 2013
3:53 pm

Both school agreed to that. Oregon was seeing the new conference format and jumped on the opportunity not to fly out here. Also not coincidental that the original game was scheduled by 2 ADs who were no longer around at thier respective schools.

AltamahaDawg

May 8th, 2013
4:09 pm

I think Oregon is a bad example as they are willing to fly places to play. Somewhat out of necessity. Just stating that it was mutual, even though clearly UGA did want out and Oregon agreed. Was a stupid game for us to schedule in the first place.

BrotherRicht

May 8th, 2013
4:16 pm

Bill, did you ever consider what I thought about the 9 game conference schedule?
It appears you have everyone’s opinion but mine. Does my opinion not matter?
Keep it up, and you column might slowly go away.

7576DAWG

May 8th, 2013
4:17 pm

I would rather keep the Auburn game every year than the Tech game but if we can keep both, okay but I am in favor of going to a 9 Conference schedule but they need to move the bowl eligible requirements from 6 wins to 7.

My-Guy

May 8th, 2013
4:38 pm

Does anybody think of taking away the small opponents like Florida Atlantic, Northwestern State, North Texas, New Mexico State, etc?

GTBob

May 8th, 2013
5:22 pm

Its a shame that suits running our programs can’t just end this outdated ‘rivalry’. It would help both teams with scheduling tremendously and put an end to the end season dog and pony show that has been boring for years.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

May 8th, 2013
8:06 pm

Please drop Tech and bring back Clemson

Good grief why do we want to play a program who has one or two true fans (GT Bob being 1 of the 2)

And why play a program who cant fill a high school size stadium in the middle of 6 million people especially in a high crime area

Bulldawg35

May 8th, 2013
8:26 pm

I don’t want to drop tech that is a automatic win every year…I hope we don’t lose the auburn game either….it’s always great beating them

Dawgton

May 8th, 2013
8:54 pm

Dawgs two problems are home and home with Tech and having to play in Florida every year.

We will always play only 4 SEC home games and 5 on road, take a schedule and figure it, 4 home and 5 away. To pay the bills we have to have 7 home games and will just not work playing 5 SEC on road and Tech away every other year.

STICK WITH 8

DAWGMAN

May 9th, 2013
12:21 am

I bet some 16 year old computer whiz could figure this out in two weeks.

NCDawg

May 9th, 2013
6:56 am

A 9 game SEC schedule would necessitate going home and home with UF. Everybody is enamored of the Cocktail party but in the end it will have to end. It is inevitable that the SEC will have a 9 game schedule so there is 1 other option. Jacksonville 1 year and the Dome or it’s replacement the next. It’s about the same distance from the Athens to Atlanta as it from Gainesville to Jacksonville. Just an idea… I seriously doubt it would ever gain any traction.

GTBob

May 9th, 2013
11:46 am

And why play a program who cant fill a high school size stadium in the middle of 6 million people especially in a high crime area

I agree. For your own safety drop the GT game.

GTBob

May 9th, 2013
11:48 am

I don’t want to drop tech that is a automatic win every year

You could drop Tech and schedule an FCS school at home every year. You would make more money and still have an automatic win. It would be a winning situation for everyone.

Spanky

May 9th, 2013
4:55 pm

Although I agree with the inevitable 9-conference game schedule, I don’t mind having a cupcake at the beginning of the season. That allows the jitters to subside, and the team can get used to the atmosphere. Other than that? We play a decent PAC-12 team, then at the end flip-flop Tech and Ga. Southern(now that they’re Div 1A). I also wouldn’t mind seeing Tech play Southern! Option vs. Option..chop block vs. chop block. Plus, Statesboro has gotten to be a fun town! There’s more to do, than drink now! LOL!! (I can say it, cause I went there, before transferring to UGA)…Go Dawgs!