Georgia got what it wanted out of the Southeastern Conference’s future football schedules with the rivalry with Auburn preserved on an annual basis and the league sticking with each team playing eight conference games.
The SEC announced Sunday night it is continuing its existing format—with one permanent cross-division rival–and adding a strength of schedule component starting in 2016 to require that each school play a game annually against a power conference opponent from either the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12.
Georgia already plays rival Georgia Tech of the ACC every year.
Athletic director Greg McGarity said late last week that Georgia was “in the eight-game column,” and preferred the 6-1-1 format that ended up winning out: six games against division opponents, a rotating cross-division opponent and a permanent cross-division opponent.
UGA president Jere Morehead said last week that “I absolutely support” continuing the rivalry with Auburn.
McGarity said a nine-game SEC schedule, which was supported by Alabama coach Nick Saban, would have meant that Georgia would have only six games at home every other year because of the annual game in Jacksonville against Florida.
“That doesn’t work for us or Florida at all,” he said. “That obviously doesn’t fit our model.”
The league announced the decision on the format after it was approved at a special joint meeting of presidents and chancellors Sunday afternoon in Atlanta that included athletic directors from each school, the league said. League football coaches discussed the matter in a meeting in Birmingham last Tuesday.
The scheduling decision comes as the new four-team college football playoff starts this coming season.
“This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a release by the conference. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for instituational preferences and acknonlwedcges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.”
That includes annual games between Florida-Florida State and South Carolina-Clemson.
“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 nonconference game, our teams will boast a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.”
Besides Georgia-Auburn, the 6-1-1 format means Alabama-Tennessee will continue annually. LSU, which plays Florida each year, has been against the permanent crossover 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 games: Arkansas-Missouri, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Texas A&M-South Carolina.
The eight-game schedule would allow Georgia to schedule high-profile nonconference games every so often such as Clemson or a Notre Dame, which has been talked about for a future series. Nine conference games and a game with Georgia Tech would have given what Georgia considered to be 10 formidable games on its schedule and made scheduling another power conference team unlikely.
More specifics, such as how far out this scheduling format will go, could be detailed at the SEC spring meetings in Destin.