The SEC will stick with an eight-game conference schedule for the 2024 football season even as it expands to 16 members.
The conference announced the decision to remain at eight games rather than move to a nine-game schedule on Thursday with commissioner Greg Sankey deeming it a temporary measure during a transition period for the league. Oklahoma and Texas will join the SEC in 2024.
The SEC currently has an eight-game schedule where teams play their division opponents, plus two cross-division opponents. The updated scheduling format for 2024 eliminates divisions and will have teams playing eight conference games plus one non-conference game vs. an opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or a major independent (Notre Dame). The SEC title game will be a matchup of the top two teams in the conference standings rather than the two division winners. The SEC had been split into East and West divisions since 1992.
The decision was reached following a series of discussions among league officials at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, this week. Each school’s eight opponents for the 2024 season will be announced on June 14 on SEC Network. Dates will be finalized later on.
Sankey told reporters in Destin that “fairness and balance” and preserving the league’s traditional rivalries are the main priorities in creating the 2024 schedule.
A move to a nine-game schedule is still a possibility for 2025.
"We have been engaged in planning for the entry of Oklahoma and Texas into the SEC since the summer of 2021, but the change of the membership date from 2025 to 2024 creates scheduling complexities that can better be managed with a one-year schedule," Sankey said in a statement.
SEC has been discussing future scheduling model for more than a year
The conference has been discussing two scheduling models for more than a year. The first is an eight-game schedule where teams play one permanent rival and seven rotating opponents. The other is a nine-game schedule with three permanent rivals and six rotating opponents. Moving to the nine-game format would allow teams to play each other with much more frequency and allow secondary rivalry games to be played annually.
Back in February, Sankey said he viewed this week’s spring meetings as a “far end date” to arrive at a long-term decision. Instead, the conference is kicking the can down the road.
In coming to that decision, Sankey cited concerns among membership that included keeping previous non-conference game agreements in place, further understanding of the 12-team College Football Playoff (namely strength of schedule for the selection committee) and having the ability to further “engage with media partners.” There were also schools worried about the ability to achieve bowl eligibility.
In addition to the expanded CFP coming in 2024, the SEC’s exclusive media rights deal with ESPN will commence that season. According to multiple reports this week, school officials are hoping that ESPN will provide extra revenue for that ninth conference game.
"Creating a one-year schedule will provide a longer on-ramp to manage football scheduling around existing non-conference commitments of our members. It will also provide additional time to understand the impact of an expanded College Football Playoff and engage with our media partners as we determine the appropriate long-term plan for SEC football scheduling,” Sankey said. "During this time of change, our fans will continue to enjoy traditional rivalries and begin to see new matchups presented by the addition of two historically successful football programs to the SEC.”
To approve the nine-game format — which Sankey himself reportedly favors — a simple majority vote (8-6) was needed. According to Sports Illustrated, only five schools have publicly supported a change to the nine-game schedule: Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M. Oklahoma and Texas cannot vote on league matters until July 1, 2024 when they become full members.
The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 have all moved to nine-game conference schedules in recent years. For now, the SEC will remain at eight.