After all, the SEC won’t be switching to a nine-game conference schedule. But it will go ahead in 2024 without divisions.
Commissioner Greg Sankey told reporters Thursday that the league has approved a temporary eight-game conference schedule for the 2024 football season when it welcomes Texas and Oklahoma to the league.
Sankey said the league will continue to explore scheduling options for 2025 and beyond.
Sankey had strongly hinted at a preference for a nine-game conference schedule ahead of the SEC’s spring meetings in Destin, Florida, this week. The proposal would have featured three permanent opponents, preserving longstanding rivalries, as well as six rotating opponents.
In response to a question about the argument for a nine-game schedule, Sankey said Monday, “A league at the forefront of college athletics doesn’t stop.”
The SEC currently plays an eight-game conference schedule: games against the opponents from all six divisions plus two interdivision games. The eight-game conference schedule discussed at this week’s spring meetings features one permanent opponent and seven rotating opponents.
Sankey said the eight-game schedule in 2024 will be based on “fairness and balance” with “traditional rivalries” being a big factor.
“We understand important matchups,” he said.
In addition to obvious rivalries like Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Florida and Mississippi State-Ole Miss, sources told ESPN’s Chris Low that a priority for the league would be to preserve other long-standing rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and Texas-Texas A&M during the 2024 season.
There were a number of issues that caused concern among stakeholders regarding the nine-game conference schedule. Among them: competitive balance and the desire for more revenue in exchange for additional conference play.
When asked about the possibility of being compensated for an extra conference game, Sankey said he thinks “money follows. It doesn’t drive.”
The coaches focused on the impact a ninth conference game would have on bowl eligibility and the ability to make the college football playoff.
Alabama coach Nick Saban had been an advocate of playing nine conference games in the past. But his position seemed to shift recently, focusing instead on the need to only play Power 5 teams, which he said would be better for the fans and improve the strength of the teams’ schedules.
“I think one of the hardest things about going to nine games is that we’ve tried to schedule two non-conference Power 5 games to try to build on our schedule strength over the next seven, eight, nine, 10 years. And if we go to nine games, we’ll have to get rid of that,” he said. “My deal was always to play more SEC games because we couldn’t get other people to code. So now I think more people are in tune with the programming. So having a balance is probably the most important thing.”
Florida coach Billy Napier said he wondered about the impact the scheduling would have on overall bids in an expanded 12-team playoff in 2024 and beyond. How the strength of the schedule looks would be a “critical factor” in the decision, he said.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart took a different approach, calling the entire debate over eight-on-nine conference games “the most overrated conversation that ever took place.”
He noted that regardless of eight or nine conference games, by moving to a non-division format, each team would play every opponent in the SEC twice, home and away, over a four-year period.
In the past, teams from various divisions could go long periods without facing each other. When Georgia traveled to Mississippi State last season, it was their first trip to Starkville since 2010.
“I have traditional rivalries. You have two, you have three, you have one,” Smart said. “You guys need something bad to write about when you start talking about this. It’s just not that important to me. Because you have to win your games to advance, right? You need to be in the SEC championship game, possibly with an expanded playoff.” That’s a much better topic for me. Will anyone get an advantage by not going to the SEC championship but making the playoffs?
Smart said it would be potentially difficult to lose the Auburn rivalry. A former Georgia soccer player, he counts himself among the fans who want him to continue each year.
“But I think it’s one of the costs of progress to bring in two more teams,” he said. “It’s one of the costs of scheduling, getting more balance in terms of you’re going to play everybody. I think it’s not just going to be Georgia-Auburn, it’s going to be someone else against someone else. Sometimes you call that progress Sometimes you upset the fan.
“I think that’s a good debate … because your traditionalists want those rivalries and others want to see you play against the teams that never see you play. You can’t have both.”
The SEC will announce the full 2024 schedule on June 14.
“We have been involved in planning for Oklahoma and Texas to join the SEC since the summer of 2021, but the membership date change from 2025 to 2024 creates scheduling complexities that can be better managed with a one-year calendar.” . Sankey said. “Creating a year-long schedule will provide a longer on-ramp to manage soccer scheduling around our members’ existing non-conference commitments. It will also provide additional time to understand the impact of a college soccer playoff.” and interact with our media partners as we determine the appropriate long-term plan for SEC football programming.”
The SEC also updated its field access policy.
Each school must provide security and a uniformed police presence around visiting team and game officials before, during and after competition to prevent contact with fans. It will also be a requirement for teams to create a safe and clear pathway off the playing surface in the event of an assault on the field or court.
Penalties for violations have increased to $100,000 for the first violation, $250,000 for the second violation, and $500,000 for each additional violation.
If the visiting team and game officials have cleared the playing surface before fans enter the field or court, the home school may avoid the prescribed penalty.