SEC football notebook: Coaches split on nine-game schedule issues

It’s that time of the year again when athletic directors and head football coaches from the Southeastern Conference begin discussing how schedules are formatted.

SEC football notebook: Coaches split on nine-game schedule issues
Rachel G. Bowers

And there’s never a unanimous opinion.

“One thing about the SEC is the First Amendment is alive and well,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said at last week’s announcement of the SEC Network. “So, we have a lot of discussion about scheduling, and as you know last year in the spring, we voted to do the 6-1-1, but I do anticipate additional discussion about scheduling. I expect that our coaches, our athletic directors and our presidents will engage in a significant conversations about future scheduling in the months ahead.”

Athletic directors are meeting this week to prepare for the SEC Coaches’ Meetings — which begin May 28 in Destin, Fla. — and scheduling will likely be a topic of conversation.

Since 1992, SEC teams have played a 12-game schedule, including eight conference games, six of which are division games. Of the two remaining conference games, one is a permanent division crossover (such as Georgia-Auburn) and the other division crossover rotates (Georgia hosts LSU on Sept. 28). 

One hurdle in the scheduling conversation has been keeping in-state rivals (Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Kentucky-Louisville, Florida-Florida State) intact in a hypothetical nine-game SEC schedule.

“There’s certain in-state rivals who’s within the league, there’s certain coaches who’s instate rivals are out of the league,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said last week. “That’s why you get a mixture of thought as to what would be the healthiest thing to do.”

Another headache has been some of the more storied rivalries that include a team from each SEC division, such as Alabama-Tennessee. LSU coach Les Miles has on numerous occasions expressed how displeased he is that the Tigers’ permanent crossover game is against Florida. The Bulldogs’ crossover game is against Auburn, two teams that have played one another since 1892.

“There’s also going be these traditional rivalry games that have been crossover games that were very strong in consideration of what we were going do a year ago,” Richt said.

But a nine-game conference schedule narrows down cupcake games to two a season.

“It could go to nine,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “Whatever they say is fine with me.”

Richt said he thinks Slive does a decent job of listening to each coach and athletic director when making decisions for the conference.

“Everybody wants what’s best for their university, but we also know the strength of our league is to work together. Even when it comes to revenue sharing and things of that nature, we want to do it to where everybody feels real good about being in the league,” he said. “If he thinks something is better for the student-athlete over what might be better for the league financially, then he’ll do that, too. We’re going do what’s best for our kids.”

Young alumni ticket program fills up fast

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said 3,500 people signed up for the young alumni ticket program.

Earlier this year, the Georgia athletic association board voted to take 2,000 of the 16,000 allotted student tickets to create the program, which allows alumni who have graduated in the last five years to get two season tickets without a donor cost.

McGarity said the ticket office is in the process of validating that each person who signed up falls within that five-year window.

“So with two tickets a person, that just shows that we could’ve moved 7,000 tickets,” McGarity said at the SEC Network announcement in Atlanta. “We only have 2,000 available this first year, but who’s not to say that if students attendance continues to decline that we may up that number in the future.”

McGarity said the tickets will be dispersed through a lottery, which will take place over the summer.

“That just shows you maybe the horsepower that we have with this program,” he said.

While student tickets moved to an electronic scan system in 2009, non-student tickets are still paper tickets. McGarity said the athletic association has to estimate game attendance each season.

“People have filled the stadium with the exception of the students,” McGarity said. “You’ll see pockets of fans at certain games, but right now we tear tickets. Student gates, we do scan electronically. So, we will morph into the scanning process down the road maybe as soon as next football season.”

SEC Network and Georgia’s budget

Slive and ESPN president John Skipper would not reveal the financial aspects to the deal to create the SEC Network.

McGarity said that though he doesn’t expect any revenue to be dispersed from the network’s first year, he did say any new revenue stream would be welcomed with the athletic associations rising costs.

“We have not raised our ticket prices in some time. Tuition went up five percent. We’ve made some adjustments to our football coaches’ salaries this year,” McGarity said. “Our reserve is healthy, but we it’d be like you or me dipping into our 401k, our retirement fund. We don’t want to do that. We want to basically survive on what we can generate each year. We can’t operate like the government. So what we have to do is survive on what we produce every year. If you go to the reserve year after year after year, that’s not the right way to do business, so that money is there for a purpose. It will help us offset maybe our scholarship costs. It’ll help us off set some expenses we have with our facility maintenance.

“It will help us, but it’ll also help the university because we give back significantly to the university. That will certainly open doors there to where we will be able to do things for the university too down the road.”

Issue of paying players remains

With the announcement of the SEC Network last week, the topic of paying student-athletes was brought up again.

A key argument against it is that smaller schools cannot afford to pay all of student-athletes.

Spurrier, who has been a proponent of paying student-athletes, said he understands that not all schools can do that.

“I know it’s difficult for the smaller schools to reward all their student-athletes with 2,000 bucks a year. That doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I just happen to believe the income-producing sports, that football and basketball, those guys should share a little bit in the tremendous amount that they bring in.”

Richt said he’d like to provide more financial support for student-athletes, but that outright paying that doesn’t make them amateur athletes anymore.

“I think it really has to stay in the framework of a scholarship,” Richt said. “I would love to see the cost of attendance come into play where everybody — all the student athletes, not just the football players — can get more money in their pocket for the incidentals and just college life in general.”