Scheduling For Money

By: Robert Craft news services

The SEC is likely to stay with an eight-game football schedule for the 2025 season, but that could be the final year before going to nine games, according to Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte.

The main news: the SEC is sticking with an eight-game schedule for the 2025 season. There was no confirmation from the SEC office or anyone else at the town hall event Del Conte spoke at.

Several conference sources emphasized that there has been no official decision either way on the 2025 season or beyond.

But indications are the SEC does not want to have its annual meetings in Destin, Fla., this May be dominated by another debate about the future schedule format. The conference could announce well before that it’s going with an eight-game schedule for 2025, then make a decision later for 2026 and beyond.

When Oklahoma and Texas announced they were joining the league a few years ago, the momentum was toward going to a nine-game schedule. But that momentum stalled mainly because ESPN did not agree to increase payout to the SEC in exchange for adding a ninth game.

At last year’s spring meetings, the SEC announced it would keep an eight-game schedule for the 2024 season. That was the first eight-game schedule for Texas and Oklahoma, and it postponed the long-awaited decision on whether to go to nine.

The biggest reason is money. Even schools that favor a nine-game schedule, such as Georgia, have wanted ESPN to increase its payout in exchange.

The television contract, which was signed about six months before Oklahoma and Texas announced they were joining, just has a pro rata clause, which means the payout goes up by an equal amount to what the current 14 schools were getting.

SEC officials have argued that eight more conference games  the result of going to a nine-game schedule is worth more money. But ESPN, dealing with Disney-ordered cutbacks, has not agreed.

There is another reason for the SEC to punt: It can see if only playing an eight-game schedule helps or hurts its teams for the 12-team CFP when the Big Ten and other conferences are playing nine games.

There have been two formats under discussion: In the eight-game format, every team would have one permanent rivalry and rotate everyone else.

In the nine-game format, every team would have three teams it plays every year and rotate everyone else. In both formats, everybody plays everybody else at least twice every four years.

The downside of an eight-game schedule is traditional rivalries that wouldn’t be played every year: Auburn and Georgia or Alabama and Tennessee, for instance.

While Texas-Texas A&M was considered one of those, Del Conte also said that the Longhorns would play the Aggies every year. It could be Oklahoma and Texas that wouldn’t be played every year if an eight-game schedule were adopted.

This year, while the SEC stayed with eight games, it kept those traditional rivalries as rotating games. That could be done again in 2025.

In result, the traditional rivalries would stay intact if the SEC went to a nine-game schedule starting in 2026. If the conference sticks with eight games, the rivalries would go to a non-annual basis.

In your opinion, does the SEC rotating rivalry schedules create a significant enough loss in media dollars to justify a pay increase for nine games?

Because if not having those secondary rivalries played every year, the SEC can justify to Disney that they have to pay more in fear of missing out on rivalry media dollars.