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The Pac-12, the SEC, and the difference in scheduling philosophy

The SEC has 14 teams, but appears content to play only eight conference games. We examine the reasoning behind that, and ask whether WSU fans prefer to stay with nine Pac-12 games, or want to go back to eight.

Michael Chang

Last Sunday, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announced that the league has decided not to increase the number of conference games from eight to nine. Despite the fact that the Pac-12, Big 12, and Big Ten (beginning in 2014) play nine league games (the ACC is on the fence but will likely stick to eight because Big Brother did), the SEC feels content that eight games are a sufficent test for its schools. The SEC did add the proviso that every school would be required to schedule an opponent from another major conference (Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12).

On the surface, that seems like a decent trade-off. Looking a bit deeper though, it is little more than window dressing. Four SEC teams (Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia) already have an annual rivalry game built-in with ACC opponents. Many of the other teams have such a game on the schedule nearly every year. Recently, Alabama has scheduled Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Michigan. LSU faced West Virginia, Oregon, and Washington. Auburn played WSU last season, and visits Kansas State in 2014. Arkansas begins a road/home with Texas Tech this year. There are other examples. One outlier is Ole Miss, who has never played a Pac-12 team. Way to schedule up, fellas.

The SEC is really saying two things with this strategy. One, "We are the best conference in America, and our schedules are tough enough without playing another conference game. If you doubt us, take a look at where most of the crystal footballs reside." Two, "Being that we are the best conference out there, we doubt seriously that staying at eight conference games will hinder our ability to to compete for one, and probably two, spots in the College Football Playoff (CFP)."

As for the coaches, only Nick Saban has come out in favor of increasing the conference schedule to nine games. Why are you trying to make me like you, Nick? Life was much easier when you were likening hurry-up offenses to al Qaeda. It's understandable that most coaches would be in favor of fewer conference games. After all, it usually means another easy win, which leads to bowl games and job preservation.

I don't expect the SEC's stance on this issue to change in the near future. There is really only one thing that will compel them to get in line with nine conference games. That is, for example, an 11-1 SEC team getting left out of the CFP in favor of another school that had a similar record, but played tougher out-of-conference opponents. Only after the inevitable Harvey Updyke-led torching of CFP headquarters, coupled with Mike Slive hunting down every committee member Munich-style, will this happen.

I am conflicted on this issue as it relates to WSU and the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has been playing a nine-game conference schedule for years now, and doesn't seem too worse for the wear. The Pac-12 also has the reputation for scheduling a bevy of power conference teams. Just last year, conference teams played Auburn, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern, and BYU (Independent, but still) among others. As a college football fan, I want to see better games, as opposed to the annual November day when the SEC takes the weekend off to face teams from the Sun Belt and SoCon. I also want to see a level playing field in which every major conference is playing the same amount of league games.

As a long-suffering WSU fan, there are times when I'd rather see eight conference games on the schedule, which could likely bolster our chances to add another win on the path toward bowl eligibility. Nine conference opponents makes it tougher for a rebuilding team to get that sixth win. However, I also get the feeling that if Bill Moos had to schedule a fourth game, we'd likely see an increase in body bag games, since WSU gets a lot of money to play them, and it is tougher in the West to schedule a MAC or Sun Belt opponent than it is in the Midwest or South.

As Cougar fans, which do you prefer? Are you happy with nine conference games instead of eight? If you prefer eight, would you rather schedule a cupcake or a tough opponent? If it is the latter, are you content with the majority of those games being on the road? We all know how difficult it is to schedule those games at home. Discuss.

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