LITTLE ROCK — Pertinent questions and follow-ups from Razorback fans that are still unanswered after the annual Southeastern Conference meeting in Destin, Fla.:
—Will Missouri be on the Razorbacks’ schedule in 2014?
—If so, will the 2013 game vs. LSU be the 22nd and final one on Thanksgiving weekend?
Best guess: Yes. Yes.
—Will there still be permanent cross-division opponents beyond 2015?
—If so, will South Carolina, continue to be Arkansas’ permanent opponent from the Eastern Division?
Best guess: Yes. No, Missouri makes sense.
Other than the fact that the SEC will stick with the 6-1-1 format through 2015, there is little new about football schedules. Reviewing the schedule again prior to the 2016 season is interesting since that is the year that the Big Ten moves to a nine-game schedule.
At the core of the two-year schedule is whether a year of wait-and-see about TV’s appetite for a better inventory of games and how strength of schedule plays into the new College Football Playoff moves SEC coaches to join Alabama’s Nick Saban and endorse a nine-game conference schedule.
The dissenter in a 13-1 vote to continue the eight-game schedule, Saban articulated the big-picture approach to future scheduling.
“The biggest thing we all need to do in some of these decisions we’re making about who we play and what we do is, ‘What about the fans?’” he said. “One of these days they’re going to quit coming to the games because they’re going to stay at home and watch it on TV …”
Along those lines, a nine-game schedule with one permanent out-of-division opponent and two rotating would mean that schools would play each other at least once in a three-year span — a plus for fans and athletes alike.
Early in the week, Tony Barnhart authored a piece about how the SEC leads the nation in football attendance for the 15th consecutive year, but that the figure has declined slightly for four consecutive years after reaching a pinnacle of 76,844 in 2008.
In response, the SEC has created the Working Group on Fan Experience and charged it with making the in-stadium experience competitive with the technology available at home.
Scheduling a good non-conference opponent and playing nine conference games is the easiest way to come up with 10 quality games per year — the standard established by SEC commissioner Mike Slive. “I don’t want us playing four games that mean less,” he said in Destin.
The theory that a nine-game SEC schedule is a sure thing and that the coaches’ endorsement of the 6-1-1 format through 2026 is a sham is understandably popular, but there is another caveat to consider. Proponents of eight league games would have a strong argument for the status quo if each SEC team had two quality opponents from BCS conferences and that is not as far-fetched as it might sound.
For example, this year, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina each have two such opponents.
Alabama has lined up West Virginia, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Georgia Tech as non-conference opponents through 2020. This year, the Crimson Tide plays Virginia Tech. Around the league, Rutgers, TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Indiana, Oregon, Wake Forest, and Washington State dot 2013 schedules.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, a proponent of the eight league games, has upgraded the Razorbacks’ non-conference schedule with a home-and-home against Texas Tech in 2014, TCU in 2016, and Michigan in 2018. This week, he was quoted as saying that the SEC is the nation’s leader and that, “I don’t think we should be making changes solely because the Big Ten and Pac-12 have.”
Texas A&M athletics director Eric Hyman says he wants the Aggies to play one BCS team, a “national” game, and an FCS team each year.
Personally, 10 is the magic number. People in charge can work out the details.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.