ATHENS — Once again, the Georgia-Auburn annual rivalry is safe. And nothing really will change with Georgia’s scheduling.
The SEC announced its new football scheduling format Sunday night, after presidents and chancellors met earlier in the day in Atlanta. The major results:
It’s still an eight-game conference schedule. No increase to nine.
The cross-division annual rivalries remain, preserving Georgia-Auburn and Tennessee-Alabama.
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The only major change — and it’s not a major one for a few programs — is that beginning in 2016 each SEC program will have to play at least one non-conference game against one of the other four major conferences: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.
Since Georgia already plays Georgia Tech, that essentially means no change to the way the Bulldogs have to schedule.
The SEC statement did not cite a specific number of years the scheduling format will exist. So theoretically it could be revisited at any time, especially if the eight-game schedule is providing disadvantages for getting SEC teams into the new four-team national playoff.
By sticking with the eight-game schedule, the SEC resisted the desires of some to go to nine games, as many other conferences have done.
“The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. “In fact, just last year, five of our schools comprised the top five toughest schedules in the nation according to the NCAA and nine ranked in the top 20.”
The SEC also was concerned that a nine-game schedule would result in an uneven amount of home and away games for pretty much every team. The exception could have been years that Georgia and Florida each had four home games and the annual Jacksonville matchup. Of course, there also could have been years that each team only has three SEC games in their home stadium and five away.
Instead of going to nine games, the SEC’s hope is that mandating at least one major non-conference game will “bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule,” as Slive put it. It will also maintain flexibility for each program with the remaining three games.
Currently four SEC programs have permanent rivalries that fit the new criteria. Florida already plays Florida State, South Carolina has Clemson and Kentucky has Louisville.
In addition, many of the other 10 teams already have major non-conference games lined up. Arkansas, for instance, has such a game scheduled between 2016-19. In fact, the only SEC programs in 2014 that aren’t playing another major-conference team are Mississippi State, Mississippi, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
“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,” Slive said. “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.”
Finally, while there are only a few cross-division rivalries with a long history, the SEC decided to maintain those. The tradition of Georgia-Auburn and Tennessee-Alabama won out over the desire by many to have more flexibility with the two cross-division games.
“Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries,” Slive said. “It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions.”
The other permanent cross-division matchups will be: Arkansas-Missouri, LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Texas A&M-South Carolina.
Georgia president Jere Morehead said Wednesday he “absolutely” wanted to preserve the series with Auburn.