Alabama football made change years ago to contracts to be nimble in scheduling. Here's how
When it comes to future SEC football scheduling, there's no lack of uncertainty.
Move to nine conference games? Stay at eight? What will the rotating schedule look like? And when exactly will Texas and Oklahoma join the conference?
"We'll see" was a favorite phrase for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to employ at the spring meetings in Destin, Florida, back in June as the university presidents, athletic directors and coaches met to discuss scheduling and other issues.
Much is to be determined in the future of SEC scheduling, but Alabama football took steps years ago to be in good shape for the changes.
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Future football game contracts obtained by the Tuscaloosa News/USA TODAY Network show how the Crimson Tide began signing contracts as early as 2019 with "good faith" clauses that allow flexibility in rescheduling nonconference games if there are changes in conference requirements.
"Any time you do new contracts, you try to do your best to think of the “what if” scenarios," Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne told The Tuscaloosa News. "You’re never going to bat 1.000 at it, but you try to anticipate the best you can and this was language of 'what if?' "
The timing of the language coincided with Alabama pursuing home-and-home deals in place of neutral-site openers. The last such deal to be signed was in 2017. Then UA began including statements exactly like, or similar to, this one.
"The team acknowledges the long-term nature of football schedule planning and that conference rules," many of the contracts read, "including the requirement to play a minimum number of games each season within their respective conferences, as well as the prospect that conference alignments could change, dictating that a game cannot be played during the (season) season. Accordingly, should this occur, the teams agree to discuss in good faith a future date(s) for the game(s) to be played."
The first contract with language that allowed for adjusting a game because of conference changes was Notre Dame, signed in May 2018. But that was listed under a section with scenarios that warrant cancellation, not re-scheduling.
The good-faith rescheduling language didn't emerge in Alabama contracts until February 2019. The Crimson Tide signed that deal with West Virginia. All games against Power Five opponents Alabama has signed since then include the language.
Byrne said Alabama didn't add these clauses as an expectation of more conference games. UA added them in case of more conference games.
Saban has publicly pushed for more conferences games as far back as a decade ago. It was something for which Byrne said he was also advocating but not receiving much support in AD meetings prior to the news of Texas and Oklahoma joining the conference.
UA started adding the clause to contracts anyway.
"We just started thinking about what the different realities are of college athletics and some of the instability and then also knowing that there may be a time where we decided we would play more SEC games," Byrne said. "Certainly not knowing about the additional teams we’d be adding with Texas and Oklahoma at the time."
This contract language is key because Alabama has at least two nonconference Power Five opponents scheduled each year from 2025-2034.
"We went and scheduled, starting in 2025, the two Power Five nonconference games thinking we were at eight (conference games)," Byrne said in June.
If that number gets bumped up to nine, Alabama will likely want to adjust.
Facing 11 Power Five opponents in the regular season would be a colossal task each year. Scheduling that many Power Five games only makes sense if most teams do.
It might take some creativity, but thanks to the way the contracts are structured, Alabama will have the flexibility it needs to create a compelling schedule that is still realistic no matter what the SEC decides.
Alabama football future nonconference schedule
- Middle Tennessee State: Sept. 2
- Texas: Sept. 9
- South Florida: Sept. 16
- Chattanooga: Nov. 18
- Western Kentucky: Aug. 31
- South Florida: Sept. 7
- Wisconsin: Sept. 14
- Mercer: Nov. 16
- Florida State: Aug. 30
- Louisiana Monroe: Sept. 6
- Wisconsin: Sept. 13
- Eastern Illinois: Nov. 22
- West Virginia: Sept. 5
- South Florida: Sept. 12
- Florida State: Sept. 19
- West Virginia: Sept. 4
- Ohio State: Sept. 18
- Ohio State: Sept. 9
- Tennessee-Martin: Sept. 16
- Oklahoma State: Sept. 23
- Notre Dame: Sept. 1
- Oklahoma State: Sept. 15
- Georgia Tech: Aug. 31
- Notre Dame: Sept. 14
- Georgia Tech: Aug. 30
- Boston College: Sept. 13
- Arizona: Sept. 4
- Oklahoma: Sept. 11
- Arizona: Sept. 3
- Oklahoma: Sept. 10
- Virginia Tech: Sept. 2
- Boston College: Sept. 16
- Virginia Tech: Sept. 1
USA TODAY's Steve Berkowitz contributed to this report.
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly