Amid the continuing discussion of a strength-of-schedule factor in selecting the four teams for the new College Football Playoff, the move toward a nine-game SEC schedule appears to have widened into a call for the conference’s teams to upgrade their nonconference opponents as well.
Already, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has made a move in basketball, getting the schools to agree to send their nonconference schedules to the league office for evaluation and possible tweaking in an effort to get more conference teams into the NCAA tournament.
According to the Sporting News, Slive has similar concerns about the proliferation of “cupcake” games on SEC teams’ nonconference football schedules.
“I made it very clear,” Slive said. “I don’t want us playing four games that mean less.”
So whether the SEC goes to eight or nine conference games, the commissioner wants members playing more teams from major, BCS-level conferences and fewer opponents that do nothing more than guarantee a home game and a victory.
The main impetus behind the capitulation of college presidents in agreeing to a playoff was a widespread horror over the all-SEC national championship game a couple of years ago. The feeling among many college football observers is that the playoff selection committee still to be named is going to take every opportunity it can to limit the conference to just one team. And the relative lack of strength in nonconference schedules is the biggest chink in the SEC’s armor.
Actually, if the SEC does move to pressure members to play more major nonconference opponents, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky will have a leg up on the competition in that they already play BCS-level in-state rivals each year. So they’d only have to replace one cupcake, instead of two, to be playing 10 strong opponents each year, as advocated by Alabama’s Nick Saban, who appears to be acting as Slive’s stalking horse on the matter.
Whether the SEC goes to nine conference games or stays at eight, Saban’s athletic director, Bill Battle, told ESPN, “What I think is that we really need to play at least 10 good games … because our fans are going to get tired” of lesser opponents.
It’s a valid point, and UGA President Michael Adams raised the same issue recently about fans rebelling over paying for home games against teams they don’t really want to see. “The fans don’t like the games against some of the competition that we play, and I don’t blame them,” he told the Macon Telegraph.
The concern is that more fans will stay away and watch better games in the comfort of their own home on a large-screen HD television rather than shell out for the cupcake games, or instead of buying a season ticket will cherry-pick the best home games via the secondary ticket market outlets like StubHub.
CBSSports.com noted recently that while the SEC led attendance nationally last season for the 15th consecutive year, the average attendance figure for the conference actually has dropped each of the past four seasons.
“It’s a real issue,” Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley told CBS. “A confluence of things is coming together and the world has changed. We have to change with it.”
So between worries about a perceived weakness in nonconference scheduling keeping SEC teams out of the playoff, the new ESPN-run SEC Network wanting more quality games for programming, and dwindling attendance at cupcake games, the likelihood of a conference scheduling revamp seems inevitable, whether it’s eight or nine conference games.
From a Bulldog fan’s point of view, I’m with Mark Richt in feeling that UGA’s No. 1 scheduling priority should be making sure the Georgia-Auburn rivalry, the South’s oldest, is maintained. If Les Miles’ whining about the disparity in permanent cross-divisional rivals begins to get any traction, that might push Georgia into supporting a nine-game conference schedule, which would make it easier to maintain the permanent rivalries.
“The one thing I will say I would vote on is to continue to have a rivalry game with Auburn,” Richt told the Macon Telegraph recently. “Does that involve an eight-game, a nine-game? I don’t know. If [the Auburn game] goes away, then does an eight-game change in my mind compared to nine? I think one of the keys to this whole thing is whether the rivalry games stand. That can change how people think about the big picture.”
Beyond that, though, while I love watching the Dogs Between the Hedges no matter who they’re playing, I have to admit I’d like fewer Florida Atlantics on the schedule.
However, Georgia’s Greg McGarity already is on record as saying that if the SEC goes to nine conference games, that might mean that Georgia, which also has Georgia Tech on the schedule every year, might be less inclined to play another major nonconference opponent like Clemson. I’m hoping Slive’s push for upgrading the nonconference schedules as the College Football Playoff approaches will make McGarity think twice about that.
I think Alabama’s Battle is right. SEC teams need to be playing 10 “good” games each season.
As Saban said this week in pushing his case for nine conference games, “The biggest thing I think we need to do in some of these decisions … is [ask], ‘What about the fans?’ Because one of these days they’re going to quit coming to the games. They’re going to stay home and watch on TV, and everybody’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t you coming to the games?’ ‘Well, if you played somebody good, we’d come to the game. That should be the first consideration. Nobody’s considering them.”
If they want the fans to continue to shell out for season tickets, that needs to change.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg