The SEC's choice to keep an eight-game schedule will preserve traditional rivalry matchups. (Lance King/Icon SMI)
The debate over a potential nine-game conference schedule in the SEC is over -- for now.
On Sunday the SEC announced that it will remain at eight league games in its conference schedule, with one permanent matchup and one rotating matchup involving cross-division opponents. SEC schools will also be required to schedule at least one opponent from the "Power Five" conferences each year beginning in 2016.
The SEC's announcement pertained to the debate over eight- and nine-game conference schedules across college football's power conferences. Once the Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016, the SEC and ACC will be the only remaining leagues to play eight-game conference schedules. In the SEC, Alabama coach Nick Saban has been the only league coach to support the idea of a nine-game conference schedule.
The presidents, chancellors and athletic directors of each SEC institution met Sunday in Atlanta and decided on the scheduling format, which will go into effect for the 2016 season. In a statement SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said adding to the league's non-conference slate was at the heart of Sunday's decision.
"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," said Slive. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.
“The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.”
Currently each SEC team schedules one permanent cross-division rival. The list includes:
• Alabama (west) vs. Tennessee (east)
• Arkansas (west) vs. Missouri (east)
• Auburn (west) vs. Georgia (east)
• LSU (west) vs. Florida (east)
• Ole Miss (west) vs. Vanderbilt (east)
• Mississippi State (west) vs. Kentucky (east)
• Texas A&M (west) vs. South Carolina (east)
Slive said the preservation of traditional cross-division SEC rivals was also a key aspect of the conference's decision.
“Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries,” said Slive. “It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions.”