If Mike Slive sauntered into a Destin, Fla., hotel ballroom last week looking like he owned the place (and the coastline), wearing his best dress toga, showing that “Marcus Aurelius, I’m-better-than-you” sparkle in his eyes, it would be understood.
Slive is the commissioner of the SEC. That is as close to ruling the Roman Empire as we have in college sports today, and arguably in athletics in general. He oversees a conference that wins football national championships, fills stadiums, commands major revenue streams, influences change and is launching its own television network.
Mike Slive laughs at your silly drones.
But for all of the power, wealth and prestige that Slive and his empire have accrued over the past several years, the SEC is alarmingly out of step in one significant area: scheduling.
In short, the coaches and administrators from the biggest, baddest conference on the planet look like a bunch of cowards.
The SEC’s coaches are balking at expanding conference schedules from eight games to nine. Only Alabama’s Nick Saban has publicly stated he backs a nine-game schedule and the conference eliminating target-practice games against FCS and similar Munchkin opponents.
They say it’s about potentially losing a home game. It’s not. They says it’s about losing potential rivalry games. Do you really believe college administrators still care about tradition? They say they’ve already got the toughest conference schedule in the country, which might be true, but that misses the point.
What this really is about is too many coaches and their bosses are afraid of missing out on third-tier bowl games, the kind that take teams with 6-6 records, which possibly are attainable only with a win over Toledo or Arkansas State.
Saban summed up the situation best when he told the assembled media, “If you look at it through a straw and how it affects you and you’re self-absorbed about it, nobody’s going to be for (nine). I shouldn’t be for it. We’ve got a better chance to be successful if we don’t do it. But I think it’s best for the game and the league.”
Now, it’s worth noting that come next season, Alabama will play FBS-newbie Georgia State, FCS-sacrifice Tennessee-Chattanooga and Mountain West-doormat Colorado State. So he’s milking the current situation for as many wins as possible. But at least he’s not cowering like his brethren at the possibility of change
The SEC has long been criticized for scheduling. It’s justified. The fact the SEC might be significantly stronger than most conferences doesn’t excuse everything.
Like this: The 14 SEC schools will play 15 games in 2013 against schools currently in FCS or in the process of leaving FCS (such as Georgia State). SEC schools also will play 10 games against teams from the Sun Belt, seven from Conference USA, five from Mid-American, one from the MWC (Colorado State, not Boise State) and one from the WAC (Idaho, not Utah State).
That’s 39 games vs. cupcakes compared with 17 against schools from the five other major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, Big East).
The SEC will play nearly as many games against current or outgoing FCS schools (15) as against the majors (17).
Sorry, but when you go through the SEC season schedule, Austin Peay should not come up twice.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity has not taken a position yet on the issue. For now, he’s giving the SEC’s talking points. Programs have to dip from “that pool” for opponents, he said, because bigger schools would demand a home-and-home series. In other words, Georgia would rather pay a Sun Belt or an FCS school $1 million to have its limbs pulled off in Sanford Stadium than give up the live gate of a home game every other year, which would be the case in a two-year contract against, say, Illinois.
“We would be giving up significant amounts of revenue or we would have to raise ticket prices, which is something we don’t want to do,” McGarity said.
But the economics argument just doesn’t fly. SEC schools make approximately $14.3 million each from contracts with CBS and ESPN. Revenue will increase with the new SEC Network (which, by the way, needs decent games for programming — not Texas A&M vs. Sam Houston State). That’s just TV revenue — not merchandising, bowl games and hot dogs.
McGarity said a serious discussion about scheduling can’t take place until after college football’s new playoff criteria is determined. Again: not valid. It’s known that strength of schedule will be a factor. It’s known that everyone associated with SEC programs — coaches, administrators, athletes, fans — proudly wear “Seven consecutive BCS title titles” on their sleeve. Nobody debates the conference’s strength (save, maybe, Bob Stoops). But if a coach really believes an extra conference game is going to be the tipping point for his program, he doesn’t deserve even the Liberty Bowl.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten will go to nine in 2016. The ACC’s nine-game plan was tabled after negotiating a five-game arrangement with Notre Dame, which, while bizarre, is at least a legitimate excuse.
McGarity acknowledged that “for a lot of institutions, 6-6 and going to a bowl game is important. When you add another conference game, that’s seven more losses somewhere.”
With 14 schools playing 12-game schedules, eight conference games is thin. It looks like they’re hiding something. This is the same conference that created a conference championship game, which to use McGarity’s argument, guaranteed one more loss than necessary.
Slive said, “We play a pretty good conference schedule now.”
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said, “When’s it going to stop? Two years from now they’re going to say, ‘You know, we probably ought to schedule an NFL team.’”
It’s hard to believe this is the SEC.
Maybe they’re not so tough after all.