DESTIN, Fla. – Kirby Smart seemed ready to put the great Southeast Conference schedule debate to rest.
“The most overrated conversation in the world”, Georgia the coach said Tuesday.
As is tradition, the Southeastern Conference took over a resort hotel on Florida’s Gulf Coast this week for its spring meetings. The hottest topic is what the nation’s toughest football conference plans to do with its schedule starting in the 2024 season, when Texas And Oklahoma join us to make it a 16 team league with no divisions.
The options stick with an eight-game slate, but move to one annual rivalry game instead of the current two, or nine games with three annual rivals. The SEC has been trying to figure this out for over a year.
“I am a professional history teacher” Missouri Coach Eli Drinkwitz told reporters. “And every time I come to one of these meetings, I’m amazed that all 13 colonies have actually formed a union, but we can’t agree on an eight or nine game schedule.”
Either way, punting divisions solve a big problem for the SEC: infrequent meetings between some members of the league.
The most obvious example: Texas A&M has played only once against Georgia since joining the SEC in 2012, and the Aggies are still waiting for the Bulldogs to visit College Station.
“For four years, you’ll play everyone, home and away,” said Smart, whose team won back-to-back national titles. “I understand traditional rivalries, you have three, you have two, you have one. You have this, you have that. You need something bad to write about when you start talking about this.”
Despite Smart’s ambivalence, the eight or nine conversation matters a lot to fans.
With an eight-game schedule that only protects one opponent per year, Auburn-Georgia — the oldest rivalry in the Deep South, played 127 times — Alabama–Tennessee and perhaps the renewed Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is among the notable matchups likely to become every-other-year matchups.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said when the Longhorns arrive, he’d like Texas A&M’s annual rival to be Texas. But that would mean sidelining Texas-Oklahoma every two years.
“LSU has become a big rivalry for us,” Fisher said. “But if we’re talking about A&M’s traditional rivalries, we’d say Texas.”
While LSU Coach Brian Kelly hasn’t fully committed to a number of conference games, he said he wouldn’t want to give up playing Alabama every year, and the only way to do that would be to have a nine-game conference schedule.
SEC football coaches and athletic directors met separately Tuesday and will meet Wednesday in hopes of finally reaching a decision before the meetings end Friday.
Drinkwitz is one of the few coaches to take a stand, alongside nine.
KentuckyMark Stoops of is probably the strongest supporter of remaining at eight, noting that the school’s annual in-state rivalry with Louisville of the Atlantic Coast Conference means the Wildcats are already locked in at least nine games against Power 5 opponents.
“I’m a history teacher by trade. And every time I come to one of these meetings, I’m amazed that the 13 colonies actually formed a union, but we can’t agree on an eight or nine game schedule.”
Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri coach
There is no guarantee that the scheduling issue will be resolved this week. Commissioner Greg Sankey said there was still time for further consideration. He even recognized the possibility of a short-term solution, building on a model but with a commitment to it for only a year or two.
Sankey met with football coaches Tuesday to discuss a multitude of topics, including calendar.
“I felt a level of confidence in our decision-making process,” Sankey said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has promoted game schedules with only Power 5 schools and appeared to be a proponent of nine conference games over the past year.
Now, he seems concerned about what that could mean for Alabama’s non-conference schedule in years to come. The Tide offers home series with Wisconsin, State of Florida, state of ohio And our Lady — among others — scheduled between 2024 and 2030.
“If we play nine games, we’ll have to fix it,” Saban said. “My goal has always been to play more SEC games because we couldn’t attract more people to program. So now I think there are more people who are willing to program. So having a balance is probably the most important.”
Sankey said he’d like to “land the plane” this week, but he also recalled the last time the SEC expanded. Texas A&M and Missouri gained membership in the fall of 2011 and began play in 2012, giving the conference less than a year to determine the football schedule.
“So we have a lot of reserves in the wings of this plane,” Sankey said. “But we’re going to be more timely than that.”