Alabama head coach Nick Saban repeated his stance this week that he is in favor of it, and SEC commissioner Mike Slive said it needs to be discussed — even if most of the other coaches are against it.
“The league will make a decision,” Slive said. “In light of the playoff, in light of changes, we oughta be discussing how we schedule. Whether we change it or not is another matter. This league didn’t get to be where it is without opening the door and looking at everything and making sure that we’re doing everything we need to do to be as good as we can be.”
The creation of an SEC Network has led to yet more discussion of the conference moving to a nine-game football schedule. It was a hot topic Thursday at the Hyatt Regency, with coaches once again voicing their opposition, and their commissioner essentially saying: We’ll see.
That doesn’t mean the conference will go to nine. But remember, two years ago most coaches (with the exception of Georgia’s Mark Richt) were against oversigning proposals. But they passed anyway, in large part because Slive favored them and got the presidents and athletics directors on his side.
So this will be discussed later this month at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. And it may go beyond that.
Slive is at least hopeful for a shorter-term solution: Only the 2013 football schedule has been announced, so the conference needs to announce something soon on 2014 and beyond. Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said last week he expected a three-year schedule (2014-16) to be revealed soon.
“Soon, I hope,” Slive said on Thursday. “Hopefully before (Destin).”
Those will be eight-game schedules in the 6-1-1 scheme — six against divisional foes, one against a recurring interdivision rival and one against a rotating interdivision opponent. Any nine-game schedule will require larger debate — and there will be debate.
“I’m for playing nine conference games; I was the only person that spoke out in favor of it last year,” Saban said on Thursday in Atlanta. “If you increase the size of the league and the number of teams you have in the league then you’ve got to play more games.”
Added Auburn president Jay Gogue, one of the spearheads of the SEC Network’s creation: “I’d probably be one that would be supportive of it. There was discussion last year about it. Certainly no decision … I think it will be discussed every year for a few years until there is some resolution, or we stay where we are.”
Some other coaches have said they’re open to it, including Richt and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. But many more coaches are stridently opposed to anything but eight games.
“I’m not for a nine-game schedule. I don’t think it’s best for our league,” Florida’s Will Muschamp said. “It’s too challenging with the in-state rivalry we already play. You add a ninth game (in the SEC), it’s too difficult.”
Auburn first-year head coach Gus Malzahn wouldn’t weigh in on the subject.
“To be honest with you right now, I’m just focused on year by year,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got our hands full with next year and we’ll have discussions with the SEC commissioner and all that.”
Florida, Georgia and South Carolina each have an in-state non-conference rivalry with a BCS opponent. But South Carolina’s Spurrier is a bit more open than Muschamp.
“The three of us have a pretty tough game already,” Spurrier said. “But it could go to nine. Whatever they say is fine with me.”
The benefit of a nine-game schedule is it would allow more room for the three most heated permanent cross-division rivalries: Georgia-Auburn, Tennessee-Alabama and LSU-Florida.
Slive was asked if those needed to be protected. The commissioner thought for a second before answering.
“We have (protected them),” Slive said, smiling, before adding: “So far.”