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College Football Insider

As ACC opens scheduling talks, will SEC end up on eight-game island?

The SEC is in a class by itself.

Well, it might be soon -- as the only power conference without plans for a nine-game conference schedule.

The ACC is discussing nine games again. No votes were taken at league meetings last week and the ACC is still exploring all options, including a potential "8 + 1" partnership with the SEC.

But more than half the conference athletic directors want nine games, according to an ACC source, which means those talks will deepen the intrigue as the College Football Playoff era begins in earnest in the fall and leagues jockey for position in the national semifinal. If the SEC feels it can eschew nine games based on its body of work on the football field and its ability to schedule good non-conference games, that conviction will be tested more than ever if it's on an eight-game island.

Maybe the SEC doesn't need to change, at least not yet. But right now the SEC still has an eight-game confidant in the ACC, which might actually need to change.

To understand why the ACC is revisiting nine games less than two years after the part-time football addition of Notre Dame stalled those talks, consider the league's plans for an ESPN-run ACC Network.

More league games means more inventory for the network and more revenue. Schools understand this.

The ACC has targeted a 24-hour conference network for much of the last year, and it needs to give ESPN every incentive to execute it. The SEC is in a different place -- the SEC Network will launch in August, and all parties involved believe there's already enough inventory to keep viewers happy.

For the ACC, nine conference games is generally seen as better programming, not to mention better gate sales. In most cases should bolster the precious strength of schedule dynamic that the playoff committee will value. The deterrent for schools is getting six home games instead of seven some years. Complicating matters is the ACC's agreement to play Notre Dame five times a year.

The league is also looking at an "8 + 1" system that, according to ESPN, could include an eight-league schedule plus one game against an SEC team each year. This sounds fun but would be a beast to figure out. Four ACC teams (including Louisville) currently have permanent SEC rivals. Orchestrating 10 more such matchups would be complicated.

So while the SEC might merely discuss nine game at its spring meetings in Destin, Fla., the ACC could be finalizing new plans at the same time.

The SEC would be going into the playoff system as a loner.

That would enhance an already-robust SEC scheduling debate because of the widespread aversion among coaches and athletic directors. Coaches voted 13-1 against it, and most ADs liked eight, too.

Despite the popular sentiment that a nine-game schedule for the SEC is inevitable, I never got a sense that was happening unless eight games affected the league's chances at getting two teams in the playoff.

When or if commissioner Mike Slive feels that's a concern, he'll act.

Still with seven of the last eight national titles, the SEC still has enough clout to do what it wants. A nine-game schedule wouldn't come until 2016 at the absolute earliest. The SEC wouldn't change because of what other leagues are doing.

But if ACC teams are soon playing nine conference games plus Notre Dame every three years, that's a serious haul. The SEC already schedules tough nonconference games (save the mid-November FCS games), but will that be enough?

If two SEC teams get into the 2014 playoff, the answer will be a resounding yes.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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