The great SEC schedule debate shouldn't even be a debate

The SEC has stubbornly held on to eight conference games, but with Texas and Oklahoma arriving in 2024, the need for more intra-conference games is obvious.

The Great Debate of the SEC — which shouldn’t even be a debate — has somehow churned into another year and come to dominate another round of meetings down in Destin, Florida.

It has left Missouri football head coach Eli Drinkwitz as mystified as ever.

“I’m a history teacher by trade,” Drinkwitz told reporters on Tuesday. “And every time I come to one of these meetings I’m blown away that the 13 colonies actually formed a union but we can’t agree on an eight- or nine-game schedule.”

Yes, the SEC’s ongoing discussion of how often to play and who to play often is back. Most leagues play nine intra-conference games. The SEC has stubbornly held on to eight. With Texas and Oklahoma arriving in 2024, pushing the conference to 16 members strong, the need for more intra-conference games is obvious.

Along with the elimination of divisions, a nine-game slate would allow for each team to maintain three permanent rivals and then cycle through the remaining 12 teams every two years. Each team would visit each campus every four years (with the exception of a couple of neutral site rivalries).

Yes, it assures more cumulative losses, since a league game assures someone in the league loses rather than a likely win against a non-conference cupcake. It also assures more excitement.

So even though most of the traditional lower-half of the league favors eight, Drinkwitz and Missouri see it differently … and correctly.

“The SEC is the best conference because of our fans and our passionate fan bases,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I think you lose sight of it saying it’s not fair to me.”

Namely, if you are an SEC football program then you should play as much SEC football as possible. For your players. For your fans. For your school.

If not, what’s even the point of this operation?

You can draw laughter in college athletics for bringing up the interests of the fans, i.e., the people who fund the operation, but it is nice when someone mentions them.

College football is in the middle of a dramatic change due to television-dollar motivated conference realignment. That’s what brought Texas and Oklahoma to the league in the first place. It’s what led the Big Ten, a year later, to add USC and UCLA. It’s what has just about everyone else in the country in a state of panic about finding higher and more lucrative ground.

Is the SEC going to cause this much tumult by adding the Longhorns and Sooners and then only dip their toe into the water and not maximize their arrival?

Under an eight-game schedule, each SEC team would have one permanent rival and then play seven of the remaining teams one year and the other seven the next. For example, Alabama would preserve its annual game against Auburn, but it would no longer play LSU and Tennessee each season. Who wants that?

If the SEC sticks with an eight-game conference schedule, matchups like LSU vs. Alabama would only be played every other year. (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
If the SEC sticks with an eight-game conference schedule, matchups like LSU vs. Alabama would be played only every other year. (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Or in the case of Texas and OU, they’d meet each year in Dallas for the annual Red River game, but the much-anticipated and equally intense Texas-Texas A&M clash would occur only every other year. It’s an absurd concept.

Fans of college football want LSU-Bama and A&M-UT and Georgia-Auburn, and all of that. If television is going to mess up traditions, rivalries and history, it can’t then cheat the fans out of the good games just so a bottom-feeder can schedule The Citadel or Middle Tennessee because it fears an extra loss.

Is the traditional late November SEC game against an FCS opponent worth preserving? Are the fans of those teams really fooled by that?

The universities advocating for less SEC football might want to consider whether they really belong in the SEC … and not just for the revenue. There are plenty of other teams that would gladly take their place and take on the challenge.

A nine-game schedule isn’t just the obvious choice for the SEC, it’s the only choice. More games. More good games. More rivalry games. More SEC, where they claim it just means more.

Or as Drinkwitz puts it, something for the fans, who are the only reason this entire thing has become as big as it has.