If SEC football keeps 8-game conference schedule, CFP committee should hold it accountable
Oklahoma and Texas will begin SEC competition in 2024, but we still don't know what format the SEC's football schedule will take at that time. Divisions are going away after this season, but as to whether the league's members will approve an eight- or nine-game conference schedule, that debate continues.
A schedule format decision is expected within two months, with all eyes on the SEC's spring meetings, which begin May 30 in Destin, Florida.
The schedule was debated throughout spring meetings last year, too, but no format was approved. Since then, a few things have evolved: Most notably, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams with the 2024 season. With six automatic bids and six at-large selections, the SEC will be eligible to earn up to seven bids in the 12-team format.
You might think the expanded playoff would nudge certain reluctant SEC members into embracing a nine-game SEC schedule. But, no. Still, the issue remains unsettled.
On this edition of "SEC Football Unfiltered," a podcast from the USA TODAY Network, hosts Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams debate the merits of the two schedule formats still under review.
They agree: SEC members need to see the light and approve going to nine conference games. That's where the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 are. The SEC joins the ACC as holdouts with eight-game conference schedules. To put it bluntly, growing the conference to 16 teams but remaining at eight SEC games would be pathetically chicken. Sticking with eight conference games would be built on a desire to pad records, with more room in the schedule for weaker opponents.
Conversely, additional conference games should boost revenue, while conceivably making it easier for the SEC to squeeze more media rights money out of Disney/ESPN.
Further, once the playoff expands to 12, strength of schedule should go a long way in determining the six at-large bids. Imagine if an SEC team is 9-3 and played eight conference games, plus one Power Five nonconference opponent, while a Big Ten team is 9-3 and played nine conference games, plus an additional Power Five opponent.
That SEC team would be left on precarious footing in such a scenario, and the selection committee should hold the conference accountable if it embraces a lighter fare, while the Big Ten and others play nine conference games.
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Plus, seeding will take on heightened importance in an expanded playoff. The better-seeded teams will host first-round games. Once again, imagine the committee viewing a 10-2 SEC team compared to a 10-2 Big Ten team, with the SEC playing one fewer conference game. Who is going to get the better seed, in that situation? The team that's played an extra conference game ought to enjoy an advantage.
In the four-team playoff, avoiding regular-season losses was paramount to playoff selection, and the SEC held steadfast with eight conference games. It paid off.
In this bigger playoff, though, strength of schedule should be an important element of debate when deciding between bubble teams, as it is in NCAA Tournament selection.
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Also consider, the nine-game SEC schedule format being considered would allow for the preservation of more rivalries than an eight-game format.
If the SEC votes to embrace nine conference games, rivalries would flow, fewer cupcake games would be played, and the league's schedule strength would be an iron-clad selling point to the playoff selection committee.
Later in the episode
– Take note of the transformation athletics director Scott Woodward has made within LSU athletics. Woodward hire Brian Kelly won the SEC West in his first season. Woodward hire Kim Mulkey led LSU women's basketball to the program's first national championship in just her second season. Woodward hire Jay Johnson has LSU baseball ranked No. 1 in his second season. So much for coaches preaching patience. The success on the bayou is proving patience is for suckers. As for the seismic LSU-Iowa women's basketball national championship, Adams dubs it a "crowning moment" for the sport. With Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese returning, Adams says that next season will be the most anticipated women's basketball season ever.
Where to listen to SEC Football Unfiltered
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is the senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can subscribe to their podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or check out the SEC Unfiltered newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox.