SEC sticks with 8-game football slate; USC-Texas A&M stays

6-1-1 format prevails; South Carolina voted for 6-0-2 model

jkendall@thestate.comApril 27, 2014 

Steve Spurrier

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

South Carolina didn’t get the change it wanted to the SEC football schedule. In fact, the only change the conference will make to its future football scheduling model won’t affect the Gamecocks at all.

The SEC announced Sunday night it will continue with its 6-1-1 scheduling format into the foreseeable future. The announcement marked the end of year-long debate about the fairness of the league’s slate and the possibility of adding a ninth conference game.

The only change in the conference’s scheduling is SEC teams now will be required to play at least one team from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 annually beginning in 2016. The Gamecocks’ annual rivalry game with Clemson will satisfy that requirement.

“This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule,” commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement released by the league just before 7 p.m. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.

“The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume of opponents each and every year.”

The deciding vote was held Sunday in Atlanta at a meeting of the presidents and chancellors and athletics directors of each SEC school. The Gamecocks favored a 6-0-2 scheduling format, which would have eliminated permanent cross-division games and featured two annually rotating opponents from the opposite division. The 6-1-1 format includes games against each division opponent, a permanent cross-over opponent and one annually rotating cross-over opponent.

South Carolina’s permanent opponent for its first 20 years in the SEC was Arkansas, but that was changed to Texas A&M following the 2013 season, and the Gamecocks and Aggies will begin their new rivalry Aug. 28 in Williams-Brice Stadium in the season-opener for both teams.

“We’ve been working on scheduling formats for an extended period of time and have considered numerous options,” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said in a statement released by the school. “By a consensus vote of the conference presidents, we have settled on this format and look forward to beginning a new rivalry with Texas A&M as our permanent opponent.”

LSU athletics director Joe Alleva was less judicious.

“I’m disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn’t understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions,” Alleva told Nola.com. “I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally, but we don’t share our opponents equally. Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples.”

Tanner could not be reached Sunday night for further comment. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier also advocated a 6-0-2 format.

“The most fair way is that way,” Spurrier said last week. “We think that’s best for our school, but you know every school is different.”

The desire to remain at eight league games and save annual games such as Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee eventually won out.

“Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries,” Slive said. “It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions.”

Near the end of the scheduling discussion, Alabama coach Nick Saban, appeared to be the only real advocate of a nine-game schedule, and Slive expressed faith in the SEC’s statement that league team’s will have an acceptable strength of schedule without adding another conference opponent each year.

“The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games,” Slive said. “In fact, just last year, five of our schools comprised the top five toughest schedules in the nation according to the NCAA and nine ranked in the top 20.”

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