FOOTBALL: Should the SEC go to a 9-game league schedule?

There is a steady stream of media members lobbying the SEC for a nine-game conference schedule. On the surface, the request is reasonable. Fans want better games than Alabama vs. Northwest-Southeastern Tech State. columnist Tommy Hicks used his column today to argue for this change. According to Hicks, the expanded SEC football schedule would make the conference stronger and richer. Oh and don’t forget the best reason to do it—all the other cool conferences are doing it. (LINK)

Hicks argued, “Going to nine league games a year — a step that is planned by the Pac-12, ACC and perhaps others — not only reinforces the toughness of the league but makes it even more attractive to television… A nine-game SEC schedule makes the SEC stronger than remaining at eight games. And wasn’t that the point of adding A&M and Missouri?”

Actually no. Making the league stronger on the gridiron had nothing to do with conference expansion. The only reason the SEC expanded was money.

Now, one could argue more money makes the league stronger. As Cicero said, the sinews of war are formed with unlimited money. In the arms race that is modern college football, more dollars and more television exposure means stronger football programs.

However, this is an ancillary benefit.

Making more dollars with expanded television markets was the only reason SEC presidents expanded the conference. Growing budgets and greater financial pressures necessitated the move. Governments and other institutions are finding it harder to make ends meet in this new economic world.

With the SEC owning the BCS National Championship, would anyone think that adding Mizzou and Texas A&M would make the league more dominate? The conference is better with Missouri and Texas A&M, but if these schools wanted in but could not deliver a bigger payday for the SEC, then these teams wouldn’t be in the conference. Making it clear that the SEC wanted a bigger payday from expansion was its use of outside consultants with expertise in television contracts.

Hicks argues that new television contracts create a reason to expand to a ninth game. However, the resulting unbalanced schedule with 5 home and 4 road games followed by 5 road games and 4 home games would create some budgeting issues as teams lose a guaranteed home game every other year. In theory, the new television revenue could offset that.

But, there is more at play than just the television revenue. The economic impact of home football games has an enormous political role in each SEC hometown. In many cases the partnership between the city and university has funded important expansions serving academic and athletic goals. Casting aside a home game every other year might not matter to the institution, but it does matter to local governments and small businesses. There will be political costs to changing the schedule.

Hicks discounts the damage a nine-game SEC football schedule would have on teams like Alabama. In his column, he argues that preserving games like Alabama vs. Tennessee is more important than Alabama vs. Michigan.

Hicks has constructed a false dichotomy. The league has already shown with the present schedule it can preserve the important games like Auburn vs. Georgia and Alabama vs. Tennessee.

Moreover, it does so while allowing two of the biggest names in college football to play as Alabama faces Michigan in Dallas.

An eight-game SEC schedule isn’t perfect, but a nine-game schedule would totally eliminate these important matchups between Alabama and foes like Penn State, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Michigan. Is it worth sacrificing these important games to increase the SEC football schedule to a ninth game?

Not yet. Those wanting to expand the schedule haven’t made a convincing enough argument. So, without a reason to change, the SEC would be wise to stay at eight games.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section.