Dienhart: We need scheduling uniformity

I was a bit bummed when I heard the SEC would retain its current scheduling format, which calls for eight conference games each season.

Meanwhile, the other four “power leagues” (Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12) are or will play nine-game conference schedules.

With the start of a four-team playoff this fall, college football needs more uniformity across the board when it comes to building schedules—then ultimately comparing resumes when it comes to selecting playoff teams.

Having all of the major conferences playing the same number of league games would have been a start. The next would be to have each conference play a league championship game. The Big 12 is the only top league that doesn’t, as it currently has only 10 teams and would need to add two to reach 12 and have a title game between division winners.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Again, the more similarity between teams, the easier to adjudge who merits spots in the playoff. This is when having a college football czar would be a good thing. Think Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

The SEC has a 6-1-1 scheduling format, with teams playing the other six schools in their division, one permanent crossover opponent and one rotating foe each season. It was believed by some that the SEC may move to a nine-game league to give the conference more desirable inventory for the soon-to-launch SEC Network. Heck Nick Saban—who has the loudest voice among SEC coaches—wanted a nine-game league menu. Alas, the SEC opted to retain the status quo and give its schools more scheduling flexibility with four non-league games as opposed to the three for the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.

However, the SEC is mandating that each school plays at least one game vs. a team from another “Power Five” league. So, there is that. Some such games have existed for years within the SEC, and they are nice: Florida-Florida State; South Carolina-Clemson; Georgia-Georgia Tech; Kentucky-Louisville. Other SEC schools will have to search out such a foe each year.

Conversely, the Big Ten is moving to a nine-game league schedule in 2016.

The Big Ten will take a “parity-based” approach with its conference scheduling, meaning the marquee programs will battle vs. each other outside of division play as often as possible. The Big Ten also wants every player to have a chance to play each of the other 13 league teams during his four-year career, so cross-division foes will change from season to season.

Still, some Big Ten powers will go stretches without seeing each other. For example, Nebraska and Michigan won’t play between 2014-17. The same goes for Penn State-Wisconsin. But the schedules should even out over time.

But that’s nothing compared to some of the droughts in the SEC. Alabama-Georgia takes place once every 12 years. Ditto Florida-Bama, LSU-South Carolina. That’s too bad. Why not dish up more league battles like that than leave it up to schools to find a quality foe from another “Power Five” league for a non-conference tilt?

The only thing that likely will force the SEC to adopt a nine-game conference menu is if an eight-game format costs a SEC team a spot in the playoff because strength of schedule is weak. But, it probably won’t happen. The SEC knows it. That’s why the status quo was retained. When the dust settles, the SEC will be right in the hunt for one (or maybe two) playoff spots each season in a push for yet another national championship.

Maybe the giant TV networks are the ones who ultimately force the SEC’s hand. But, until then, college football continues to be played on an uneven plane. And, that’s too bad.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (2 Comments)
Anthony G. Brown on 4/29/2014 @ 8:03pm EDT Said:

I see your point and I will raise you one. Some of the mid-major teams the SEC schedules will be better than the bottom-half teams in the Big Ten most years. Strength of schedule will be about opposing teams and will not be about conferences.

Michael on 5/1/2014 @ 2:58pm EDT Said:

That’s an idiotic comment, Anthony Brown. The SEC has more elite teams each year than the Big Ten, but the middle and bottom teams in each conference are very similar. The only difference between the leagues is that the Big might have one or two elite teams per year, while the SEC has two or three per season.

Also, remember that the Big has banned FCS foes, while the SEC will continue to play those teams. That will lead to another game where the Big teams play a foe superior to the ones the SEC will face.

Any real CFB fans of SEC teams would prefer nine games. That’s what Nick Saban wants, and he specifically cited the fan experience as the reason why the SEC should play tougher schedules.

Also, it doesn’t matter if the SEC has one or two more elite teams each year if the other top SEC teams don’t have to play them.

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