SEC sticking with 8-game format, adds yearly 'Big 5' requirement

Strength-of-schedule component only structural change; 'permanent' cross-division partners set

INDEPENDENT MAIL FILE PHOTO
Georgia tailback Todd Gurley runs past Clemson safety Travis Blanks for a score during their game in Clemson in August.

Photo by Nathan Gray

INDEPENDENT MAIL FILE PHOTO Georgia tailback Todd Gurley runs past Clemson safety Travis Blanks for a score during their game in Clemson in August.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference has decided to stick with its current football scheduling format of eight league games and a permanent non-division rival.

The conference's presidents and chancellors approved the so-called 6-1-1 format Sunday at a special meeting in Atlanta. SEC teams will continue to play each of their six division rivals, plus one permanent crossover rivalry game and another non-divisional opponent that will rotate.

The one change to format will affect nonconference scheduling. Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other Big 5 conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12. But even that rule shouldn't change much. SEC schools routinely play at least one team from those conferences per season.

This season Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt do not play nonconference games against another Big 5 school. Only Arkansas, Texas A&M and Kentucky did not play a Big 5 nonconference game last year. The Wildcats' main in-state rival, Louisville, joins the ACC this season.

The SEC had been considering adding a ninth conference game and doing away with permanent inter-division opponents such as Alabama-Tennessee and LSU-Florida.

"Critical to maintaining this format is the nonconference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents," Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement.

"The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with nonconference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major nonconference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume of opponents each and every year."

Alabama coach Nick Saban was one of the few vocal proponents of moving to a nine-game conference schedule, the way the Pac-12 and Big 12 have and the Big Ten is going to. Otherwise there was little support from athletic directors for adding another conference game.

The permanent crossover rivalries have also been a point of consternation for some in the conference. LSU has been the most vocal opponent. The Tigers have Florida as their permanent rival. Their West Division rival, Alabama, has Tennessee, which has been down for much of the last decade. Still, the storied rivalry is highly valued by each school.

"The announcement from our conference office regarding future football scheduling assures that the Tennessee-Alabama game, one of college football's most historic rivalries, will continue on an annual basis moving forward," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in a statement. "Chancellor Cheek and I have strongly and consistently advocated that this rivalry be preserved regardless of any other outcomes resulting from conversations about football scheduling."

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