LITTLE ROCK — The Southeastern Conference commissioner’s consistently vague position on nine SEC football games per year is enough to persuade this fence straddler to join the conspiracy theorists.
At the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, Mike Slive tossed out keeping an “open mind” and that expanding from eight games would be considered if we “think it’s in the best interest” of the SEC and the “need to be flexible” and doing what is “best for the league in the long term.”
In the past several months, those are things he has said at one time or another in one form or another.
This time, he made the remarks only days after the SEC announced that it did not have in place a long-term football schedule as promised. Instead, the league office said, the 2013 schedule will be a stand-alone, a bridge to 2014. Originally, the 2012 schedule was supposed to be that bridge.
“We realized we needed another year,” Slive said, adding that SEC schools’ contracts with non-conference opponents must be addressed.
In a brief pre-speech news conference, Slive mentioned that part of the picture is the four-team playoff that replaces the BCS and goes into effect after the 2014 season, and the fact that a committee will select the teams for the playoff.
Supposedly, the committee is to value won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. Strength of schedule has the attention of the SEC. For instance, Mississippi State is 7-0 with victories over Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee. Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are among league teams with traditional non-conference rivals of quality on the final weekend of the regular season, but nobody in the SEC has more than one game against a “name” opponent.
If not a nine-game conference schedule, maybe the SEC will work out an agreement with another BCS conference.
Asked in July about moving to nine games, Larry Templeton, head of the SEC’s transition team, said, “I think it’s something that will be looked at because of the new playoff, but right now we’re staying with eight. There’s time to explore and do some stuff.”
Another stop-gap schedule buys a year for exploration.
That same month, Slive said there are different dynamics in each league, adding, “For me, it will be what best positions us to maintain the success we’ve had as the postseason changes.”
To that, he added “flexible,” “dynamic,” and “innovative.”
Promoting the conspiracy theory is the fact that the SEC reneged on the statement that Missouri would become Arkansas’ permanent cross-division rival in 2013 and that South Carolina would play Texas A&M every year.
When the schedule was released, Arkansas was still matched against South Carolina and A&M had Missouri for another year. Other traditional rivalries remain intact.
Asked Monday about keeping the Arkansas-LSU on the Thanksgiving weekend, Slive again referenced the “best interest of the conference.”
His more definitive statements included:
—The SEC is deep in negotiations with CBS and ESPN and he hopes for an announcement before the end of the year.
—Expansion was never a numbers game for the SEC and the league was happy with 12 until Texas A&M contacted the league and Missouri followed suit.
—Hopefully, athletic scholarships will be increased to cover the full cost of attendance, but the league presidents would not tolerate pay for play.
—The new Champions Bowl is unique because the SEC and the Big 12 own the game and the TV rights.
During his remarks, Slive recounted the league’s accomplishments during his 10 years as commissioner. Unlike many Touchdown Club speakers, he offered little humor. His best came when someone up front softly asked about officials.
“Where did I get my sport jacket?” Slive said, rephrasing the question for those in the back.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.