With no college football authority, SEC looks out for itself

05/05/2014 11:44 AM

05/05/2014 11:44 AM

Ah, the seasons of college football.

The regular season, postseason and spring season bring action. But the inaction season, roughly from mid-spring to media days in July, also brings its share of activity off the field.

Take the recent exchange between Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 coaches.

Last Sunday, the SEC announced it will continue to play an eight-game conference schedule in 2016 and beyond. I was mildly surprised the conference didn’t grow to nine games. Not because other conferences are there or headed in that direction, but ESPN will need quality inventory for the SEC Network.

But the status quo won, with a kicker — one non-league game must be scheduled against another top five conference foe.

The Pac-12 happened to be the next major conference to hold a teleconference, so naturally their coaches were quizzed about the SEC playing eight games and their league and the Big 12 playing nine, and the Big Ten headed there in 2016.

Stanford’s David Shaw was most vociferous.

“My take is to say, ‘OK, the rest of us are playing our conference. We’re playing nine out of 12 teams in our conference. Why can’t you do the same thing?’ You can’t color it. You can’t try to explain it away. You’re not doing what the rest of us are doing.”

Sunday, speaking to reporters including The Star’s Randy Covitz at the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn returned the volley.

“I’ve said before, our conference speaks for itself,” Malzahn said. “I think eight games are appropriate. We’ll see how this playoff system works the first few years. We’ve got a lot of respect for what they (Pac-12) do, and everyone has an opinion … That’s their opinion.”

The four-team College Football Playoff launches this year, and schedule strength will be a component considered by the 13-member selection committee. In the absence of a college football commissioner, this group will have the opportunity to influence the game and operate in the best interest of its programs and conference.

Maybe it will select a team playing a nine-game league schedule over one playing an eight-game slate, when they appear otherwise evenly measured, for the fourth and final semifinal spot.

Even if the SEC went to nine conference games, college football still would have a math problem. The SEC has 14 teams, meaning each team would only play nine of 13 conference foes each season. Pac-12 teams will play nine of 11 conference foes. Only the 10-team Big 12 plays a complete nine-game round-robin schedule.

There is no ideal solution, short of creating NFL-like conference alignments with the same number of teams and a scheduling formula. That’s not going to happen.

But college football would be better served by wide acceptance of the idea that paths to the national championship should be crafted as evenly and fairly as possible.

With the big-revenue leagues moving toward governance autonomy within the NCAA, a nine-game SEC slate would have been a strong statement by the most powerful conference that it’s willing to do something that’s in the best interest of college football.

But as Malzahn said, the conference speaks for itself, and it’s saying business as usual.

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