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June 2, 2012

SEC schedule will be a hot topic of debate

There was so much debate, and the hint of possible revisitation, about the football schedule format at the just-concluded Southeastern Conference meetings in Sandestin, Fla., that the larger point may have been missed.

In the end, the 6-1-1 model (six divisional games, one permanent cross-divisional opponent and one rotating cross-divisional opponent) prevailed over the 6-0-2 model, which would have no permanent cross-divisional opponent but two rotating ones.

That didn't please the minority, led by LSU, which wants to do away with permanent opponents. It will remain an issue regionally, dividing those who want games like Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia and those who don't want games like LSU-Florida every year.

Nationally, though, the debate doesn't resonate. To an extent I really didn't realize, most of the country doesn't care how the SEC configures its eight-game schedule.

All the other leagues want to see the SEC go to a nine-game conference schedule. And before you jump up and say "Who cares what the rest of the country thinks," be aware the SEC has been sensitive to other conferences' opinions on other issues ranging from scholarship limits (the so-called "oversigning") to academics.

Every issue that every other league comes up with to explain the recent SEC dominance - except perhaps warm weather - eventually finds an audience. It will be the same with the nine-game schedule, sooner or later.

It is understandable why ESPN wants nine games, although having Jessie Palmer say the SEC, in essence, needs to "prove" it is the best league by going to a nine-game schedule is silly, resonating of the old "I double-dog dare you to step across this line" from the elementary school playground.

There might be a reason for the SEC to step across that line, but "proving something" isn't it.

Obviously, ESPN would love to see the SEC go to nine games - more league games means more quality programming. And other leagues would like to see the SEC have another guaranteed seven losses every year, if only on the off-chance that one of the league leaders might get bumped off.

Most SEC schools are against the nine-game schedule right now because it would unbalance the league schedule and necessitate five road games every other year.

Additionally, SEC teams with traditional rivals outside the conference - Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, perhaps Texas A&M if it reconciles with Texas some day - don't want the added game.

There are positives to the nine-game schedule, too. Most fans want as much SEC football as they can get. It would solve the problem of "permanent opponents" by allowing a 6-1-2 rotation. And, in a 14-team league, there is something to be said for playing more than just over half the league members.

Football scheduling is never going to please anyone, but while this year's debate was about how to configure eight games, don't be surprised if "nine" becomes the debate topic of the future.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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