SEC sticks with 8-game football schedule for 2024 season

Conference will eliminate divisional standings when Oklahoma, Texas join

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — Well, the SEC has landed its plane on scheduling. Turns out, though, it’s only refueling and will take off again soon.

During the the SEC Spring Meetings this week, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has been using the metaphor of a plane circling an airport and needing to land for the league to make a decision on an expanded conference schedule for 2024. They finally landed it Thursday.

The league’s 14 presidents voted unanimously to adopt an eight-game conference schedule for next year after Oklahoma and Texas join league. But it will be for only one year. The internal debate about adding a ninth conference game will continue, Sankey said, though he expects it will get resolved well before the 2024 spring meetings.

“Creating a one-year schedule will provide a longer on-ramp to manage scheduling around existing non-conference commitments,” Sankey said during a press conference at the Hilton Sandestin Resort on Thursday. “It will also provide additional time to understand the impact of an expanded College Football Playoff and engage with our media partners as we determine an appropriate long-term plan for scheduling.

Thursday’s decision actually came a day before a vote was expected to take and amid growing concern a scheduling decision wouldn’t be made here this week.

“I never said we would make a decision, and I never said we wouldn’t,” Sankey said. “We did, so that’s where we are.”

As expected, the league also will eliminate divisional play, which has been utilized since 1992. However, the SEC Championship game will continue. The top two teams will be determined via tiebreaker rules that weren’t revealed Thursday.

The only requirement of the “temporary schedule” is that teams are required to schedule at least one opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12 or a major independent during the 2024 season. Sankey said that, in this first year at least, the league would not utilize the 1-7 scheduling model that has been vigorously discussed. The hope, he said, is to preserve as many rivalries as they can going forward.

“This decision will provide an appropriate initial pathway into a still-to-be determined long term formula for SEC football scheduling whether that is an eight-game or nine-game format,” Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said. “And it will allow time to evaluate the impact of the expanded College Football Playoff. I will add that we have always been strong advocates of maintaining traditional rivals on our schedule regardless of the format and the conference understands the Georgia position in that regard.”

The 2024 schedules will be revealed June 14 during a live broadcast on SEC Network. The single-division model will allow teams to play the other 15 conference members home and away every four years.

“We’re going to honor our traditional rivalries, our traditional games,” Sankey said. “I’m excited about that. I’m not going to give away our schedule right now, but we understand priorities.”

That is definitely good news for Georgia, which stood to lose Auburn as an every-year rival in the 1-7 format. The Bulldogs also have yet to play Texas A&M in College Station despite the Aggies being in the league for 11 years. Georgia was scheduled to play there in 2024.

It appears that date might survive.

“I am confident there will be a game between those two universities before ‘26,” Sankey hinted. “We were attentive to location, but every time you check another box, there is a complexity that plays out across the schedule.”

Georgia already had four non-conference games scheduled for the 2024 season, including one against Clemson in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game to open the season. Adopting a nine-game conference schedule would have required the Bulldogs to buy out one of those games. Most SEC teams were facing similar complications.

Among existing membership, there were more than 30 such non-conference games that were in jeopardy with a nine-game SEC schedule in 2024. Those games are now preserved.

Sankey was asked if he was concerned about criticism that the SEC is shying away from increased intraconference competition.

“Nobody’s shying away from anything,” he said. “We just didn’t add another game during a period of transition. ... “We’re going to maintain a ninth game against non-conference opponents essentially out of the (Autonomous or Power) 5. I think that’s another step forward. It’s incremental, and we’re going to continue to work on the future.”

In fact, there still seems to still be momentum to increase to nine conference games eventually, possibly as early as 2025. One of the hang-ups, though, has been the SEC’s broadcast agreement with ESPN. Brokered in 2020 for the 14 conference members, the reported 10-year, $3 billion deal did not include compensation for the additional games 16 opponents a nine-game schedule would provide.

“We have a range of possibility,” Sankey said. “There’s a full understanding that there are really important games in this conference, really special games. So, we’re going to take this step in 2024 and continue on the path forward.”

The eight-game football schedule was not the only resolution adopted Thursday. The SEC presidents also voted to amend the conference regulation regarding “access to competition area,” better known as the “field/court-storming rule.” Each institution now must provide security and uniformed law enforcement to surround teams before, during and after events. The intent is to prevent contact between athletes and spectators.

Meanwhile, the league is escalating fines for field and court “incursions.” They will be increased to $100,000 (from $50,000) for a first offense; $250,000 (from $100,000) for a second; and $500,000 (from $250,000) for a third and subsequent offenses. The biggest wrinkle, though, is the fines will be paid to the opposing school rather than the SEC.

Protecting the competition area and athletes was prioritized again after last season when Tennessee fans swarmed the field after the Volunteers upset Alabama at Neyland Stadium.

“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Sankey said.