Nine-game SEC schedule is inevitable

Published 12:01am Sunday, June 2, 2013

It was a classic Les Miles quote.

According to the eccentric LSU head football coach, SEC coaches are “unanimously” in favor of keeping the SEC at an eight-game schedule by a 13-1 vote. The lone vote was Alabama’s Nick Saban, who came out in favor of a nine-game conference schedule this past week at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

All humor regarding Miles’ misuse of the word “unanimous” aside, it’s likely he meant to say “overwhelmingly” in favor of retaining the current eight-game conference schedule. Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze made a good argument when he said adding another SEC game to the conference schedule meant adding seven more conference losses in the 14-team league.

It’s understandable why all but one of the league’s coaches are so adamant about retaining the eight-game format. They feel — correctly — that the conference is already the best football conference in the country. Why add more losses instead of just scheduling some creampuff team and guarantee a win?

But the reality is that a nine-game conference schedule for the SEC is inevitable. For one, with the new SEC Network launching in 2014, there’s going to be added pressure to play as many conference games as possible. In addition, with the new college football playoff — and the fact that the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 already play nine-game conference schedules — it’s likely there will be added incentive for the SEC members schools to play one another one more week during the season.

Even if none of the coaches sans Saban are keen on the idea of a nine-game schedule, it’s worth noting that it’s not the first time SEC coaches were hesitant to embrace major change to their conference. In 1992, the SEC adopted the Eastern and Western divisions, as well as the conference championship game, to the chagrin of its member schools’ coaches.

“We’re going to beat each other up,” lamented then-Georgia head coach Ray Goff. “It’s going to be much, much more difficult,” chimed in then-Florida head coach Steve Spurrier. “(A championship game) didn’t over-excite me,” then-Tennessee coach Johnny Majors opined.

More than two decades later, nobody seems to be complaining about the current SEC championship setup. And two decades from now, no one will be complaining about a nine-game SEC schedule.

Another point of contention for Miles this past week was his disliking of permanent cross-division opponents. Though he didn’t explicitly say it, he’s more than likely upset that his Tigers have to play Florida every year while Alabama has to play Tennessee, which has been down in recent seasons.

The reason for permanent divisional rivals was likely to keep the Alabama teams happy. Alabama and Tennessee have a rich history as rivals, as do Auburn and Georgia. It’s worth noting, though, that there is some history between Florida and LSU: From 1953 to 1991, when teams constructed their own schedules, LSU scheduled Florida every year except 1968 through 1970.

Of course, Florida wasn’t the powerhouse back then that it is now — which is a point Miles should consider. What happens if permanent opponents are dropped, then Alabama gets Florida in a down year while LSU gets Tennessee in an upswing year?

As the adage goes, Miles might want to be careful what he wishes for — unanimous consensus or not.