The nine-game model, which involves each team playing three annual opponents and rotating six, remains popular but presents different challenges.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who traditionally has favored more conference games than currently played (eight), mentioned concerns about national “competitive balance” if the SEC were to add another league game.
“If we are going to play nine conference games, we’re going to end up playing five — minimal — top-15 teams in the country,” Saban said. “How is that going to compare to other conferences?
“You could have a great team and lose two games in our conference, but someone else gets in the playoff because they went undefeated — but they didn’t have the same opportunity as many good games.”
The expansion of the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams would ease some of those concerns, but no decision on that appears imminent.
“The CFP is a factor,” Sankey said in reference to SEC leaders wanting to learn the future of the playoff before determining a new SEC scheduling model.
“(But) there’s no certainty that you’re going to have College Football Playoff information 12 months from now.”
The nine-game model also would affect teams that have scheduled aggressively into the future.
Georgia, for example, has scheduled four non-conference games for the 2026 season and would have to drop or move one of those games.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said four years ago he was for a nine-game SEC schedule, but Tuesday he was non-committal in Destin.
Smart advocated for an expanded league slate before the Bulldogs announced scheduled home-and-home series with Louisville (2026-27), Florida State (2027-28), Texas (2028-29, Clemson (2029-30) and Ohio State (2030-31). The additions of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in 2025 provide further complexities.
Sankey said both schools have been kept informed of the scheduling format discussions, but neither are voting members in respect to the model.
Some have suggested TV revenue might also be involved in the scheduling model decisions.
Sankey debunked the notion that TV executives had any influence on the discussions while also declining to comment on whether ESPN is open to renegotiations on media rights, given the additions of Texas and Oklahoma and the possibility of a nine-game schedule.
“We have some more work to do,” Sankey said in his closing remarks from the SEC spring meetings Friday. “As we talked through Wednesday, it became clear that the right step was let’s just wait.
“We’ll have an outcome when the smoke rises from the chimney.”
Sankey likely will re-address the scheduling model challenges when the league arrives in Atlanta for the annual SEC Media Days on July 18-21 at the College Football Hall of Fame.