Georgia anxiously awaits release of SEC’s new schedule

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks about the 2020 Class at a press conference on National Signing Day Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks about the 2020 Class at a press conference on National Signing Day Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens.

Credit: UGA Sports

Credit: UGA Sports

The SEC left college football with quite a cliff-hanger last week when it announced it would play a 10-game, all-SEC slate – pandemic permitting, of course. But all that’s known so far is that those games are scheduled to start Sept. 26 and end Dec. 19 with the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Missing are the most important points: Who the opponents will be (beyond the eight already set by the existing schedule) and in what order those games will be played.

That’s still being determined, and it may take a while to do so.

“It’s not going to be pulling pingpong balls out of the sky,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity quipped Monday. “But that would be the highest-rated show in SEC Network history.”

No, which cross-divisional teams play each other and when they play is being decided through a deliberate and comprehensive process headed by longtime SEC Executive Associate Athletic Director Mark Womack. Womack oversaw the SEC’s last scheduling challenge in 2013 when the league added Missouri and Texas A&M.

Contrary to popular opinion, the decision won’t be as simple as adding the next two cross-divisional opponents from future schedules. People familiar with the SEC’s proceedings have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that’s not how this will work, though it could be one of several considerations.

For Georgia, that would be Arkansas and Mississippi State; for Florida that would be Alabama and Texas A&M; for Alabama, that’s Florida and Vanderbilt; for LSU, it’s Kentucky and Tennessee; and for Auburn, it’s South Carolina and Missouri. But as those additions illustrate, some schedules would get considerably more difficult in that scenario.

In the interest of keeping the schedules as fair and equitable as possible, there’s discussion of using power ratings as one of the factors. That would require the decision-makers to make value judgments on conference teams and come up with corresponding metrics to determine opponents.

League officials would not confirm what methods will be employed other than determining first who the new opponents will be, then the total schedule. They also have to give each team five home dates, which can’t be consecutive, and keep television and traditional rivalries in mind.

McGarity said he doesn’t know exactly what the criteria is, but insisted that neither favoritism nor backroom politicking are part of the process.

“We respect and trust that the Southeastern Conference will do what’s best for the Southeastern Conference as a whole,” McGarity said Monday. “There will be complaints, of course. It’s difficult to make 14 institutions happy. It’s impossible, in fact. It’s a thankless job in a jumbled world, and no one should be surprised by anything.”

McGarity should know. He encountered criticism in 2013 when the Bulldogs had to play Auburn on the road in back-to-back years to accommodate expansion to 14 teams. UGA infamously lost that second game on the fourth-down touchdown player known as “the Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”

But as much as people want to believe otherwise, persuasion and petition were not part of that process, and they won’t be this time either.

“Favoritism and conspiracy theories are unfair and unfounded,” McGarity said. “It’d be totally wrong to finger-point. We trust the process.”

As vital and complicated as the new schedule will be, it’s not the most critical decision being made within the SEC at the moment. That would be figuring out a practice schedule.

“That’s urgent,” McGarity said. “That will be done ASAP.”

Under regular NCAA guidelines, teams have 29 days before their season opener to complete 25 preseason practices. That would’ve been Sunday for Georgia, which was scheduled to play Virginia on Sept. 7 in Atlanta.

With that game dropped and the SEC’s start date pushed back to Sept. 26, the NCAA granted the league a waiver to allow teams to keep doing what they’re going now, which is limited workouts without pads. The SEC has yet to rule on how it wants its teams to proceed.

“The SEC has not decided yet,” McGarity said. “But we’ll have to soon.”