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The SEC should play a ninth conference game

Use them for good, Mike.

So I’m looking over Andy Bitter’s rundown of SEC nonconference schedules and shaking my head, the way I always do when SEC nonconference schedules are discussed. Bitter’s points-and-tiers approach is thought-provoking, but the bottom line is that only four SEC teams–Georgia, Florida, LSU, and brave Vandy–adopted something other than the “one real opponent, three victories” philosophy for this season. We can dither all we want about how good Troy or Duke are compared to Appalachian St. or UAB, but the bottom line is that a solid two-thirds of the league aren’t scheduling any more than one nonconference game (and sometimes not even that) where a defeat is more than the remotest of possibilities.

This won’t be a surprise for any long-time readers, but: I think that’s lousy. I don’t think it’s necessary to play two games against the Georgia Techs or Clemsons of the world, but c’mon, an additional game against a Colorado or Connecticut or–as a totally hypothetical example–UCLA isn’t going to be the end of the world, strength-of-schedule-wise. We only get 12 (or if we’re good enough, 13 or 14) college football games a year. They’re too precious to waste on tomato cans.

The Pac-10 figured this out a couple of years ago, moving to a pure round-robin of nine games. The Big 10 appears to be on the cusp of following suit. The SEC should too. A list of reasons why:

1. More games that matter. Assuming SEC schools won’t be so craven as to simply schedule all three nonconference games against punching bags*, the number of games you’d fairly describe as competitive (or at least “competitive and/or against SEC competition”) go up from 9 to 10. We get to watch our team play more games we actually, you know, need to watch. This is a good thing.

2. Rivalries renewed. If the SEC did switch to a nine-game schedule, they’d have two options for going about it: 1. Re-establish the second permanent cross-division rival 2. Rotate a third cross-division opponent into the schedules. Either way, it means more opportunities for Auburn to play Florida and Tennessee again, more chances for ‘Bama to renew acquaintances with Vandy, less of a bizarro-world feeling when Arkansas meets Georgia or Auburn takes on South Carolina. Does anyone here not want more games against the Gators and Vols? Anyone?

As a result …

3. Better season ticket packages and better ticket sales. Is anybody really buying a season ticket package just for the eighth game against some I-AA team? No. Would anybody buy that package if it offered Florida instead? I’d think so.

4. Saved money. No more shelling out megabucks to Arkansas St. to come in and absorb a beating.

5. Easier scheduling. One fewer game for the Auburn administration to wrangle contracts and payouts for.

6. Did I mention we’d play Florida and Tennessee more often? Because we would.

There’s obvious drawbacks too, of course. Having half the league playing five home games vs. half playing four makes things a tad lopsided. Scheduling will have to be careful for teams to get their (admittedly mandatory) seven home games per season, particularly the first couple years of the rotation. Eight games would be out of the question without either playing three cuppity-cakes (or a Washington St.-type BCS school that wouldn’t require a return game) or playing just six the following year.

But as SEC schedules remain largely pathetic, costs for paying off the easy W’s continue to rise, and the offseason continues to drag along ,the possibility of more college football that matters seems better and better. Going to a ninth game is the easiest way to do it. Make it happen, Slive.

*Some schools no doubt would be, depending on the situation. But I would think the league office would frown on it, since teams like Carolina, Georgia, and  Florida don’t have any choice but to spend one of their three noncon slots on traditional rivals. Plus, you know, completely abandoning the idea of a worthwhile noncon game wouldn’t fly with most fanbases, I wouldn’t think.

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