Since last summer, there’s been a lot of discussion of the SEC possibly going from an eight-game conference schedule to a nine-game one in its next set of scheduling procedures, with the upcoming move of Texas and Oklahoma to the conference a factor in that. The talk around a nine-game schedule has grown since then. And that could be a big deal for several reasons, including the TV contract with ESPN.
But while the SEC scheduling discussion appears to have settled on a decision on one front (eliminating divisions, which the Pac-12 did beginning this year, which the ACC is doing beginning next year, and which the Big Ten is considering), conference officials haven’t yet made the final determination on eight or nine conference games. And in a piece published Thursday based on an interview with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey (seen above at the conference’s media days this summer), Seth Emerson of The Athletic wrote that that decision won’t happen until next year. Here’s more from that piece, which cites the uncertain arrival date for the Longhorns and Sooners as a factor:
The conference hasn’t been able to finalize a decision because of several unknowns. One of them was checked off on Thursday: Expansion of the College Football Playoff will be happening in 2024. But Sankey indicated that at least one other unknown looms: Whether Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC in 2025 as announced, or arrive earlier.
“(The non-division model) is the focus upon expansion of the conference, not the expansion of the playoff,” Sankey said. “And our focus on expansion right now is that July 1, 2025 date that has been formally announced, and I’ve reiterated that with some frequency, noting that it could always change.”
The other major unknown may be whether the SEC can renegotiate its new broadcast contract with ESPN to account for a ninth SEC game. The contract was finalized prior to the announcement of Oklahoma and Texas joining the conference.
…“We wanted several pieces of information, one of which was what would happen with the College Football Playoff,” Sankey said on Thursday. “At this point, we would look to the first months of 2023 as the opportunity to re-focus. I learned during that COVID-19 summer of 2020 not to set hard and fast deadlines, because we want some flexibility in setting a specific finish point for our conversation. We have a need to move forward though, and I would anticipate that in a general sense those decisions will sooner rather than later reach a conclusion.”
It’s maybe notable that plugged-in Sports Illustrated writer Ross Dellenger called nine games “likely” Thursday:
The SEC plans to eliminate divisions (old news, reported in May) and will likely play a nine-team conference schedule (3 permanent + 6 rotating). But that is still being debated. https://t.co/urkUrAYSJu
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) December 1, 2022
Going to nine conference games has pros and cons. Some of how it plays out may depend on which games teams choose to drop. If they drop games against lower-level teams, that’s a win for in-person attendance and TV (and that could lead to a rise in the ESPN contract), albeit a loss for the teams that depend on those games. But playing another conference game instead of a cupcake comes with a higher possibility of losing, potentially affecting everything from playoff berths to bowl eligibility. Meanwhile, if a marquee non-conference opponent gets dropped instead, that comes with its own challenges for attendance and TV. So we’ll see what winds up happening with that decision .
It’s also interesting to hear Sankey specifically weighing in on the Texas and Oklahoma date, saying “Our focus on expansion right now is that July 1, 2025 date that has been formally announced, and I’ve reiterated that with some frequency, noting that it could always change.” There has been plenty of discussion that that date could change, from both ESPN and Big 12 officials. It doesn’t seem extremely likely to change right now (if not for the reasons some have tried to argue), but it seems like the idea of this move coming before July 2025 is still being considered. So that will be worth tracking as well.