The SEC announced the format for future football schedules Sunday night and Florida Gators fans might not be happy. The Southeastern Conference revealed it will keep the current format of playing an eight game league schedule, but added a provision that each team must play an opponent from one of four major conferences: the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, or Pac 12. They also announced the permanent East vs. West matchups.
“This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule. Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents. The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.” – SEC Commissioner Mike Slive
Florida will play each of the other six SEC East teams (Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt) and LSU as the permanent non-division opponent. That means the Gators will travel to Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M every 12 years. While many Gator fans wouldn’t necessarily want to travel to Arkansas or Mississippi State, going to Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Oxford, and College Station provides an experience unique to those cities. Plus, it hurts recruiting a little bit because recruits from Alabama and Texas likely won’t get to play in their home state.
Having LSU as Florida’s permanent West partner has it’s attractions and drawbacks. Louisiana is a hotbed of football talent that the Gators will look to tap into more. The Tigers are also in the mix for the SEC Championship every single year. That’s a plus and a minus for UF. The positive is the boost in the strength of schedule Florida will receive for playing LSU every year. That likely will help them compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The downside is LSU isn’t the easiest of opponents, which hurts the Gators chances to compete for a spot in the playoff. It’s certainly a double-edged sword for Florida.
The new provision in which each SEC school must play a school from one of the other four major conferences won’t necessarily affect UF. They’re rivalry with Florida State meets the requirements and the Gators and Seminoles currently are contracted to play through the 2018 season, something that was extended earlier this year. In all likelihood, this rivalry isn’t going anywhere. It’s one of the deepest, most hated rivalry in college sports and both schools would be remiss to cancel either school off their schedule. And if for some reason FSU decides they’re too scared to play UF during the 2017 season, Florida has a backup plan. They’re currently scheduled to play Big Ten foe Michigan in the Cowboys Classic.
The eight game SEC schedule has it’s advantages too. Each team plays an equal number of home games versus away games. It also makes it easier for SEC programs to schedule those major non-conference programs they must put on the docket before the 2016 season. And, as the SEC states, it provides for “marquee neutral site games”.
There’s a lot of outcry because of this decision, but I think in a couple of years, things will be as good as ever. The Florida-LSU rivalry is one that I look forward to every single year and it’s great that Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn – rivalries with deep roots – get to stay intact. As an SEC football fan, I’m happy to see age-old rivalries preserved. But I also understand the Gator fan’s plight, going through an extremely tough SEC gauntlet every single year, plus a guaranteed game with ACC-foe Florida State. In the long run, having LSU as a permanent rival will help Florida compete for national championships.