SEC Scheduling: What’s The Floor?

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Back in the good old days – not just pre-pandemic, but when we still got a college football video game – this was the week the season really started feeling close. The annual mid-July release from EA Sports made college football’s approach a little more tangible. So did media days, also absent from our calendar this year.

On Saturday, a normally-played season would be seven weeks away, driving our countdown under 50 days. But right now it feels like we’re all operating under a different kind of countdown, with “life returns to normal” at the end but no way of knowing for sure how many days are left.

It’s really a myth, of course. Even if all of this ends with football being appreciated more than ever, from both a fan and an economic standpoint, our “normal” will be something new. That’s true far beyond football, and one of the few available guarantees.

Between now and then, long-term planning feels impossible across the board. For a school like Tennessee – not just Power 5, but one of the most profitable programs in the nation – maybe college football could end up with an arrangement we like even more than the one we have now. We don’t have to worry about the program being shut down or scrambling to find a new conference. I find in conversations about scheduling changes, including the potential of adding two more SEC games, I’m excited about the potential to play more meaningful games in a season. So much has been upended, there will be some freedom to make new rules, and the Vols will have a seat at that table.

But between now and whatever college football will look like in the days of a vaccine, there is so much we don’t know it’s hard to build a bridge from here to there. Instead, we’re left trying to see how much of the season we thought we’d have we can save.

This leads us into conversations not about what’s best for college football’s future, but how much we can retain from what may soon be college football’s past. Maybe that’s the only thing we can do right now. But it takes us to conversations like, “What’s the least amount of football we could meaningfully play?”

In general, “what’s the least we can do,” isn’t a good way to do business. But if the powers that be wish to avoid a spring season at all costs, which seems to be the tone of the moment, then there has to be a floor on how few games they’d play in the fall for the season to still have value. Leagues that have moved to conference-only play can more easily control protocols and scheduling, a step the SEC hasn’t been willing to take just yet. But even if it’s just league play, there are different ways to pull it off and different schools of thought. Brandon Marcello at 247 did the best job I’ve seen in laying out all the different options, including the points most relevant to “the least we can do”: every team needs to play its divisional games.

Six games should be the floor for football this fall, the most likely outcome there being the Vols would play only their SEC East brethren. I’m not smart enough to know if six games in the fall is worth more than attempting a full(er) season in the spring. But I do know anything less than six games this fall should mean we punt.

There’s some thought to pushing the season back to mid-to-late October in this format, knowing you could knock out six games in the back half of the regularly-played season. But with no one expecting a readily-available vaccine by then, pushing it back to October on the front end means we’re simply hoping some combination of the virus and people’s behavior work more to our advantage by then.

One potential solution, if the powers that be in the SEC wanted to commit to six games on the front end: have East and West teams play on alternating weekends, giving each team a bye week between every game to allow for more time between contests when infection may be most likely. This setup wouldn’t be flexible on the fly, but builds in more protection:

September 5

Kentucky at Florida

Vanderbilt at Missouri

Tennessee at South Carolina

BYE: Georgia

September 12

Alabama at Ole Miss

Arkansas at Mississippi State

Texas A&M at Auburn

BYE: LSU

September 19

Florida at Tennessee

Vanderbilt at Georgia

South Carolina at Kentucky

BYE: Missouri

September 26

Ole Miss at LSU

Alabama at Arkansas

Texas A&M at Mississippi State

BYE: Auburn

October 3

Missouri at South Carolina

Georgia vs Florida

Vanderbilt at Kentucky

BYE: Tennessee

October 10

Auburn at Ole Miss

LSU at Arkansas

Texas A&M at Alabama

BYE: Mississippi State

October 17

Missouri at Tennessee

Georgia at South Carolina

Florida at Vanderbilt

BYE: Kentucky

October 24

Mississippi State at Alabama

Arkansas at Auburn

LSU at Texas A&M

BYE: Ole Miss

October 31

Kentucky at Missouri

Tennessee at Georgia

South Carolina at Florida

BYE: Vanderbilt

November 7

Ole Miss at Texas A&M

Mississippi State at LSU

Auburn at Alabama

BYE: Arkansas

November 14

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

Georgia at Missouri

Kentucky at Tennessee

BYE: Florida

November 21

Arkansas vs Texas A&M

LSU at Auburn

Mississippi State at Ole Miss

BYE: Alabama

November 28

Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Missouri at Florida

Georgia at Kentucky

BYE: South Carolina

December 5

Alabama at LSU

Auburn at Mississippi State

Ole Miss at Arkansas

BYE: Texas A&M

I’m not sure there are any good answers right now. But if we’re playing this fall, it should be at least six games against divisional opponents. Would you take a season that looked like this as opposed to trying again in the spring?

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Joel Hollingsworth
Joel Hollingsworth
26 days ago

As we have learned, new facts tomorrow may change opinions and decisions today, but at this point, I would take that over punting to the spring. The spring may have less uncertainty, but it’s still there.

And it looks like that proposal does actually have some flexibility built in. If they determine that they need to get everything done a shorter time-frame, they could have the divisions play on the same weekends.