DESTIN, Fla. — Long-term football scheduling was the biggest conversation piece of the SEC spring meetings last week.
But Tennessee should be more concerned about the next schedule.
The SEC is expected to announce its 2014 schedule in the next few weeks. And no one will be paying closer attention than the league coaches.
They know how much impact a one-game shift in a conference schedule can have.
The change of one non-divisional opponent can change almost everything: which teams play for the SEC championship, which teams go to bowls and which teams fire their coaches.
No wonder, SEC coaches are so opposed to adding a ninth conference game (only Alabama coach Nick Saban favors it). An extra conference game means an extra loss for half the teams.
But the coaches’ 13-1 vote meant nothing.
Their only consolation: They will have to wait awhile for the bad news. The SEC will take its time developing a long-term scheduling format, beginning in 2016.
The schedule will be in “the long-term best interest of the conference,” according to SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
It won’t be in the best interest of the coaches.
The conference wants to increase attendance and raise revenue. That’s why the nine-game schedule is a virtual certainty.
“We’ve got to consider what’s coming,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. “Twelve-year-olds when they’re 22 can go fishing and watch the games.
“If you’re going to have fans responding to your tailgating efforts and coming to your stadium, they want to see competitive games.”
Athletic directors and SEC officials aren’t thinking solely about next year. They’re thinking about the next 10 years.
“This is a different generation,” Hart said. “The day of the grandfather passing down the baton to his son, who passes down the let’s-go-to-the-game baton to his son (is over). We have to be cognizant of that.”
Coaches are more cognizant of what’s next.
Like the current format, the 2014 schedule will be comprised of six games within the division, a permanent non-divisional rival and a rotating non-divisional opponent. The 2015 schedule will be set up the same way.
Those schedules supposedly will have nothing to do with the 2013 schedule, which was another independent production, designed to bridge the gap from one format to another.
For example, just because Tennessee has a home game with Auburn this season doesn’t mean it’s assured of playing Auburn on the road as its rotating opponent from the West in 2014.
What if it has to play Texas A&M in College
Station instead? Or LSU in Tiger Stadium, just three years after it played the Tigers in back-to-back seasons?
“We do have a chance to sit down with conference officials and make those points,” Hart said.
But each athletic director will have a different point to make. Not all of them can be accommodated.
In the fairest scheduling scenario for Tennessee, the Vols would play Auburn on the road in 2014. But a fair schedule for UT isn’t necessarily fair for everyone else.
Imagine the outcry if Alabama gets to play Kentucky again next season.
The 2013 schedule has the Tide playing Kentucky as its non-divisional road opponent. Conversely, LSU will play at Georgia; Texas A&M will pick up Vanderbilt.
Think that won’t be a factor in the West race?
It’s just one game. But in the SEC, one game matters.