This was commissioner Greg Sankey: “I’m unemotionally attached to football schedules.”
The SEC announced Thursday it will scrap its divisions while sticking to an eight-game league schedule in 2024, which not incidentally is the year Texas and Oklahoma join. This frees the league from seven annual division games. It might even mean Georgia gets around to facing Texas A&M in College Station.
The greater issue remains. If the SEC keeps its eight-game league schedule beyond 2024, the Georgia-Auburn rivalry – which commenced soon after Noah and Co. left the ark – might become an every-other-year deal. As might Alabama-Tennessee, that staple of October. As might anything to which we’ve all grown accustomed. Fans, see, aren’t unemotional about schedules. Fans bow to tradition.
Coaches aren’t fans. They’re pragmatists. Nick Saban was an ardent advocate of the nine-game sked until he wasn’t. What happened?
He looked around. That’s what.
The more SEC opponents you play, the greater your chances of losing. The more you lose, the worse your chances of making the 12-team playoff, which will likewise appear in 2024. Since the arrival the four-team playoff, nothing else has mattered – not winning your division, not winning your conference. Alabama won the national title without winning the West; Georgia won without winning the SEC.
Other Power 5 leagues play nine-game conference schedules. The SEC cares nothing about anything beyond its Just-Means-More self. There’s no Kansas down here, no Rutgers, no Indiana. (There is a Vanderbilt.) Why would Georgia want to add another conference game to the current eight, which is really a current nine seeing as how the Bulldogs have made the SEC championship game five times in six?
That’s what you think if you’re coaching Georgia. All of us who don’t coach Georgia might sneak a peek at its 2023 slate, which includes Tennessee-Martin, Ball State, UAB, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech – and ask, “Really?”
There’s no chance the Bulldogs’ home attendance will drop. UGA is the nation’s best team. UGA fans like watching it play. They especially like watching it win championships. (They wouldn’t like it if you pulled the Florida game out of Jacksonville/St. Simons, but Smart has kicked that can back down I-75.)
That said, these opponents will grace Sanford Stadium this fall: UT-M, Ball State, South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, Missouri and Ole Miss. Is there any chance Georgia loses any of those games? Any chance it trails in the second half? The second quarter? The second minute?
Fans like seeing their team win. Fans wouldn’t mind seeing the occasional decent game. Can’t have it both ways, though. The occasional decent game could become the occasional loss, which could have dire consequences. If the 2019 Bulldogs hadn’t lost to a 2-3 South Carolina team that would soon fire its coach, they’d have made the playoff even after being thumped by LSU in Atlanta.
Flash forward to 2024. Nobody knows how the College Football Playoff committee will dispense six at-large bids. Would a two-loss Big 12 team be preferred over a four-loss SEC rep?
Consider LSU. The Tigers lost four games last year; they also played four top 10 opponents, all from the SEC, and won the West. They finished 17th in the final CFP rankings. Three-loss Kansas State, which won the Big 12, finished ninth – and lost 45-20 in the Sugar Bowl to Alabama, which lost to LSU.
We can’t know what will happen beyond 2024. In the league’s announcement, Sankey said the “one-year schedule … will provide additional to understand the impact of an expanded playoff.”
That’s all that matters. Even the mighty SEC bows to the CFP.
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