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SEC, ACC not going to nine conference games any time soon


The Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) started playing a nine-game conference schedule in 2006.

When the Big 12 shrunk to 10 members last summer, it cut a deal to still get the same amount of money from its television partners. But there was a tradeoff. In the absence of a conference championship game, the Big 12 would adopt a nine-game conference schedule in order to crown a true champion and to give its television partners a better "inventory," as they say in the business.

The Big Ten (which now has 12 teams) announced last week that it will adopt a nine-game conference schedule starting with the 2017 season.

So inquiring minds want to know: If the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are going to play nine conference games, can the ACC and the SEC be far behind? Is it inevitable that those conferences will go to nine-game schedules?

One of Dabo Swinney's nonconference slots is already filled by Clemson's annual rivalry game vs. South Carolina. (Getty Images)  
One of Dabo Swinney's nonconference slots is already filled by Clemson's annual rivalry game vs. South Carolina. (Getty Images)  
I reached out to some folks in those conferences and would categorize their answers thusly:

ACC: No.

SEC: Hell, no.

(OK, nobody actually said that, but that's how the SEC feels.)

Now the reasons for the other conferences going to a nine-game conference schedule are pretty obvious:

 It makes scheduling easier and less expensive: It eliminates one nonconference game, which can be costly. The price tag to get an FBS school to come to your place without a return game is now about $1 million. Even FCS schools are getting $500,000 or more for a one-time visit. It just costs a lot more to buy a win these days.

 It makes the TV boys happy: Do the math. You're paying a 12-team conference a boatload of money to televise their games. That one move gives you more conference games to choose from.

 It makes the fans happy: Season-ticket holders like the idea of getting more bang for their buck and fewer helpings of "Cupcake U."

The ACC studied all of that. In fact, said associate commissioner Michael Kelly, the ACC went so far as to study a 10-game conference schedule. The ACC seriously discussed the issue in each of their past three meetings but decided not to pull the trigger.

"When you look at the finances and you look at the fact that fans would like to see more quality games, you could absolutely make a case for it," said Kelly. "But at the end of the day, the negatives outweighed the positives. The competitive aspect was stronger than the business aspect."

What are the negative aspects of playing a nine-game conference schedule?

Let's start with the obvious: With a nine-game conference schedule, every other year a team would have four conference games at home and five on the road.

Do YOU want to be the guy who tells Alabama's Nick Saban that he has to play five SEC road games while some of his competitors play only four? I didn't think so.

Nobody studies schedules looking for little bits of unfairness the way SEC fans do. Bring up the subject to an SEC fan and he'll quickly tell you how those (bleeping) schedule makers in the SEC have screwed his team AGAIN!

Example: This season both Texas and Oklahoma will play four true conference road games, four home games and the neutral-site game against each other in Dallas. Oklahoma State, which hopes to be a contender, will play five true road games in the league.

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I'm sure the Oklahoma State fans complained when the schedule came out. But if that happened in the SEC, people wouldn't just complain.

Somebody's house would get burned down.

I'm kidding.

Sort of.

"I understand the finances of it but we have never seriously talked about it because we can't get past the equality factor," said Mark Womack, SEC associate commissioner. "Right now our champion plays eight conference games and then the championship game. That's a lot of conference games to play given the competitiveness of our league."

The SEC enters the 2011 season having won five straight BCS national championships.

Here is another obvious issue: Adding 12 additional conference games GUARANTEES that a league will have six more losses. The ACC and SEC have contracts with nine bowls each. Spread six losses around and suddenly some 6-6 bowl-eligible teams are 5-7 and out of the postseason. Taking out Vanderbilt's 1-3, the rest of the SEC was 40-4 in nonconference play last season and still had three teams finish at 6-6. Six more losses would have made a big difference.

The ACC and SEC are in a different place than the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 because each has three members who are locked into traditional rivalry games vs. a member of the other conference at the end of the season: Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech of the ACC play South Carolina, Florida and Georgia of the SEC.

So if those two conferences adopted a nine-game schedule, those six schools would have only two nonconference games they could schedule each season.

"What you would have then is that it would be pretty difficult for those schools to schedule a good intersectional opponent," said Womack. "Games like Georgia-Boise State would be less likely to happen."

And finally there is the case of Georgia and Florida, who play their annual SEC showdown in the neutral site of Jacksonville, Fla. If the SEC adopted a nine-game conference schedule, it would mean that every other year Georgia and Florida would have only three SEC games in their home stadium (because one of their home games would be in Jacksonville), while playing six conference games (five on the road and one in a neutral site) away from home.

"Not only is that not fair to your fans, it doesn't make common sense," said Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity. "I don't think I could sell that to my coaches."


The Tony Barnhart Show will return on Aug. 31 on the CBS Sports Network.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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