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CFB: The BEST SEC Schedule Plan

One of the biggest issues the SEC has had in developing a schedule for after Texas and Oklahoma join is will it continue with its eight-game conference schedule or move to a nine-game conference schedule. Getting the schedule right will facilitate the highest fan interest and maximize TV ratings both leading to more money.


There are arguments for both scheduling plans.


Eight Game Schedule Benefits

- The SEC is LOADED with tough teams. A nine-game conference schedule just makes having a CFP worthy season unnecessarily difficult.

- With an eight-game conference schedule it's entirely possible that means one extra SEC team gets into a 12-team playoff (four instead of three?)

- An eight-game conference schedule makes getting bowl eligible more viable. THIS is critically important to the lower half of the conference.

- An eight-game conference schedule facilitates schools like OU and others to continue their non-conference rivalry games. What if the eight-game schedule allowed OU to continue Bedlam or Texas to schedule a yearly game with Texas Tech or TCU? What if going to nine caused Georgia- Georgia Tech, Kentucky- Louisville, South Carolina- Clemson, and others to be eliminated? THAT is a REAL possibility for those SEC teams.

- The additional non-conference games are important to the SEC region's non-conference program's viability. Do SEC schools necessarily care about that? Maybe they should to be able grow the sport.


Nine Game Schedule Benefits

- TV Money. A nine-game conference schedule means more inventory for TV partners and ultimately more money for the conference.

- Is an eight-game conference schedule really sufficient to determine the two teams that should play in the conference championship game when they would have played barely half of the conference teams?

- A nine-game conference schedule makes scheduling all of the key rivalry games regularly easier

- A nine-game conference schedule makes it easier to eliminate long periods where teams simply don't play each other.


I think both sides have been making these points and more every time the scheduling debate happens. You may think the answer is easy for the SEC- just go to nine conference games and adopt the 366 plan. If it was easy, it would have already happened. A majority of the coaches want the 8-game schedule. VERY few favor the 177 plan that is the default 8-game conference schedule plan. This is WHY the plan I show you is the best plan.

  • What if I gave you an SEC schedule plan that makes this decision extremely flexible? You could try one path for a couple of years and change to the other if you wanted to without redoing the entire schedule.

  • What if I gave you an SEC schedule plan that allows most every major current rivalry to occur yearly? What if the few rivalries that don't happen yearly would happen every other year?

  • What if this SEC schedule plan could easily be applied to baseball and basketball and probably every sport to make sure the teams the university audience were most eager to see their teams compete against were also guaranteed to be given priority?

  • What if this SEC schedule plan would generally minimize the travel costs by scheduling the teams closest to most (not 100%) schools were the ones the teams had scheduled?

I have that plan.


First, this is a four-tiered plan.


Tier one- Regional PODS

There have been a lot of discussion about pods, but this plan is different because it is a pods plan.


This part of the plan helps with the travel costs for most schools. One divides the 16-team SEC into four Pods as shown.


Teams in the pods will preferentially play each other in all sports. In football, members of the pod will play each other every year.


You are probably thinking "So what- it's a pod plan. Do you know how many rivalry games you lose in a pod plan? For example, what about Georgia-Auburn?" Oh, SEC fan, this is a POD PLUS plan.


Tier two- Annual PARTNERS

The plus is your two additional partners. In general, these are two teams that many of the schools have that are intense rivals that are not in their pods.


This includes:

- Georgia- Auburn

- Texas- Arkansas

- Alabama- LSU

- Tennessee- Florida

- LSU- Texas A&M

among others.


There are other semi-intense rivalries on this list two. These games should be played yearly too. Unfortunately, some schools don't really have additional rivalries - yet. Maybe Oklahoma- Georgia becomes one if they play yearly. Yes, I know the Columbia rivalry of South Carolina- Mizzou is not that big of a game, but everyone needed a couple of games, so why not?


Don't worry Ags; I got you covered with LSU-A&M. I would not want you to lose a game you lose seven out of ten times. (My son went to LSU too.)


In the chart above. I kept the color coding of the pods of each team.


You may wonder now how this would work if I were allocating FIVE games to yearly pod and partner games.


Tier three- Biennial or Triennial Rivals Games


Every school will have six more matchups allocated for either being schedule every two or every three years. If you want a nine-game conference schedule, you will have three of these opponents every year. If you want an eight-game conference schedule, you will have two of these matchups every year.


Generally, these teams were allocated to balance the schedule some (teams play across every other pod and generally not only the top teams) and to make sure the few remaining traditional rivalry games are played at least semi-regularly. A&M- Arkansas is here as well as LSU- Florida.

So now we are either at seven or eight games per year after we add two or three here.


Tier four- Quadrennial Challenger Games


Current members of the SEC complain about how their current schedule causes some teams to rarely play each other.

This system makes the rotation of the "Challenger" game a four-year cycle. Coaches can tell recruits that over the course of a four-year career they will play EVERYONE in the 16-team SEC.


Of the last four teams, each school plays one of the four each year. It could take fans eight years to see that team locally but in general, these are the teams most care the least about; and in many cases, these are the teams furthest apart.


Putting the four tiers together- The best SEC Schedule plan


Here is the full table of how the tiers all fit together.

For each team you can follow the tiers and build a schedule for the next several seasons.


There are some quirks in this schedule:

  1. Tennessee has all four teams in the blue pod either in the partners or rivals group.

  2. Arkansas has all four teams in the green pod either in the partners or rivals group. Their geography supports this plan.

  3. Ole Miss has all four teams in the orange pod either in the partners or rivals group. Many of these teams are at least semi-rivals for the school or closer geographically.

  4. Texas A&M has all four teams in the yellow pod either in the partners or rivals group. All of these schools are members of the current SEC West with A&M and some are semi-rivals.

  5. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas is one of the biggest rivalries not protected with yearly contests. This is probably a flaw in this plan. It could be resolved if Arkansas and Mizzou flipped pods. There is a downside to this, however. If one splits LSU from Arkansas in a pod, then either LSU- Arkansas, LSU- A&M, or LSU- Alabama is lost as a yearly rivalry game. My belief is the SEC would rather have all three of those over Arkansas- A&M. Listen to me know and hear me later, THE MOST IMPORTANT rivalry game in the new SEC for Arkansas is Texas. Trust me, they will live with a biennial or triennial rivalry with A&M if they get the Longhorns every year.

  6. LSU vs. Florida is another big rivalry not protected with yearly contests. I have read multiple reports that both schools are not that eager for this to be a yearly contest so maybe this is good for them.

To summarize how the schedule works for football.

In addition, this structure also works for a 20-game basketball schedule and a 30-game baseball schedule.

For basketball, a team plays its pod teams and partners both at home and away. The team plays the rivals and the challengers either at home or away.


For baseball, which is played in a three-game weekend series format. A team plays its pod teams and partners either at home or away. A team then plays half of their rivals and challengers at home or away.


It is cool that the structure works so well for those sports as well.


This is just another reason to consider this the BEST SEC schedule plan yet.


What could it look like for the Longhorns?

Here is a potential nine-game schedule with this framework.

Here is a potential eight-game schedule with this framework.

Which schedule is better? How would the Longhorns do against either of those schedules?


Let me know what you think. For a little simpler plan click the button to see my previous idea.



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P.S. I have added this summary chart to show all of the key rivalries I considered and confirmed with research. Deep red are the most intense matchups. Darker pink are the other important rivalry games. Light pink games are likely important to one side but probably not so much to the other. Please don't be offended if this Longhorns fan may not know about the intense passion between two teams not shaded pink below. Just let me know and I can fix it.


1 Comment


Love your site Larry! I have a potentially enticing SEC schedule alternative to consider.

Each team would play its first 6 conference games (3 Pod + 2 Partners + 1 from Rivals group). Then, the SEC championship would be decided by a 16 team tournament, seeded based on the 6 game record (meaning, a team like Georgia would likely be playing a team like Vanderbilt in its 1st round matchup of the tournament). Every team that loses in the tournament drops into consolation brackets so that all teams play 3 tournament games, except for the 2 teams that play in the championship game who would each play 4 tournament games. This would result in a 9 game conference schedule,…

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