Eight or nine SEC games? Gamecocks have preference as vote looms

Decision will be made soon on the number of league matchups played annually

jkendall@thestate.comApril 24, 2014 

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com

South Carolina knows how it will vote to determine the future of the SEC football schedule, but Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner isn’t sure what the consensus among league members will be.

Whatever it is, it’s coming soon.

On Monday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the final vote is expected to take place prior to the league’s annual spring meetings the final week of May. The league is considering at least four options – two with eight conference games and two that include nine conference games – for the next scheduling model, which would begin with the 2016 schedule, Tanner said.

The Gamecocks are in favor of an eight-game schedule that eliminates permanent cross-division rivals, the so-called 6-0-2 model. The league uses a 6-1-1 model, with each team playing all the teams from its division, one permanent rival from the opposite division and an annually rotating opponent from the opposite division.

“We are in favor of the six in the East and the two rotators in the West. That’s our stance,” Tanner said. “There are a lot of different options on the table, but we feel that is the best schedule based on fairness and the opportunity for every student-athlete to play everybody in the SEC at least one time if they stay for four years. Otherwise, you never will see all the schools.”

That model would mean traditional conference rivals such as Georgia and Auburn, or Alabama and Tennessee, would no longer play on an annual basis, but South Carolina does not have a traditional rivalry game with a Western Division team.

After 20 years of playing Arkansas on an annual basis, the Gamecocks will switch to Texas A&M as their dedicated cross-conference rival beginning this season.

“That’s a tough trip, and it’ll be a tough trip for A&M coming this way as well,” Tanner said.

Either eight-game model would be more appealing to South Carolina than playing a nine-game conference schedule, Tanner said.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been one of the strongest proponents of a nine-game schedule, but he said this week he does not feel like many other schools in the league support the addition of a conference game.

“I think there’s a little bit more support for staying with an eight-game schedule and everybody playing a ninth opponent that’s in the five major conferences,” Saban told AL.com Tuesday after a meeting of the league’s head coaches in Birmingham, Ala. “My thing is, I’m for playing nine conference games and still playing another team in the major conferences, so you play 10 games because of fan interest, people coming to games looking forward to seeing more good games. So, that’s the starting point for me. I think it’s important for the players to be able to play more teams in the SEC East, on the other side, which we only get to play one now. I don’t know if we stay with the 6-1-1 or 6-0-2. I don’t know.”

There are nine-game models that feature one permanent rival and no permanent rivals, Tanner said.

Teams such as South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are against a nine-game schedule because they play an out-of-conference rivalry game at the end of each season.

“I’d like to think that eight games is where we’ll stay, because many of us are playing a ninth game,” Tanner said.

Tanner was unsure of when the final vote will come. The presidents of each of the 14 SEC schools will cast the deciding votes.

“The athletics directors and the presidents are engaged,” Tanner said. “I don’t think we’ll have a difference of opinion there.”

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