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SEC Spring Meetings: Eight or Nine?

A big week with big consequences.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Texas A&M Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC meetings are currently taking place in Destin, Florida, and there’s one massive debate raging — eight or nine? We’re talking about conference games, of course, with the looming addition of Texas and Oklahoma. The traditional east and west divisions will disappear, and the conference must decide on how they’ll be moving forward with a 16-team field.

The SEC has two options on the table.

A) Eight-game conference schedule with one permanent opponent and seven rotational opponents allowing for a more diverse selection of matchups.

B) Nine-game conference schedule with three permanent opponents and six rotational opponents, which would lock in more traditional matchups.

With either option, there would be one positive. SEC teams would play each other twice over a four-year span, one home and one away.

Both options would come with a heated debate over permanent opponents. Just looking at Tennessee’s options, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia would all be options. How do you pick just three — much less — one?

Another big thing to consider here is the expanding College Football Playoff, which will only put more big-time matchups in place as the season extends.

“I think there’s so many things that probably sort of go into this in terms of eight games versus nine games, including TV contracts and things that are way beyond my scope of visibility that I’m sure a lot of those things will sort of factor into it,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday.

The SEC will move to an exclusive ESPN contract starting in 2024 as their deal with CBS will expire. ESPN would obviously want that ninth conference game if they could get it, which of course, would mean even more money.

If the nine-game schedule happens, teams obviously are going to tone down the non-conference opponents. That would be another factor that would play out over the next several years, as programs would potentially have to figure out how to back out of those already set matchups.

“I think one of the more difficult things with going to nine games is we’ve tried to schedule two out-of-conference, Power 5 games to try to improve our strength of schedule,” Saban noted. “Over the next, I don’t know, seven, eight, nine, 10 years, and if we go to nine games, we’ll have to unwind that.”

At the end of the day, coaches are going to want their easiest path to a playoff berth. That likely means an eight-game format, but that would come at the sacrifice of so many traditional yearly games. It would also affect several non-conference rivalry games, like Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State.

Whichever direction they end up going, Tennessee is a likely winner in the reconfiguration. The Volunteers could potentially get out of having to play both Alabama and Georgia every year, creating a much easier path to Atlanta and the College Football Playoff.

We’ll pass along any updates that come out of Destin throughout the week.