SEC to reconsider football schedule options

DESTIN, Fla. — From Joe Alleva’s point of view, LSU may have already scored its first win of the 2016 football season.

The Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting wrapped up Friday with the league’s presidents and chancellors deciding to consider a variety of options before moving forward with a permanent football schedule format. The target date is 2016.

Just a year ago, presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 to create the current 6-1-1 schedule format, which includes six games against divisional opponents, one permanent cross-divisional opponent and one rotating cross-divisional opponent.

On Friday, they at least agreed to hear other options.

For Alleva, the decision is an important philosophical triumph. The athletic director has championed the fight to do away with permanent cross-divisional opponents for more than a year, citing an inherent unfairness in the way the conference schedules its games.

LSU, which is in the SEC West, has to play Florida from the East every year. Florida, which favors retaining permanent opponents, has been to more SEC Championship Games (10) than any other school.

“It’s a huge victory,” Alleva said. “We turned it around. It was 6-1-1, and they voted to stay that way. Now we’re going to explore what’s best for the league. The sentiment has change dramatically. I think our campaign has really worked. I think saner heads have prevailed.”

For the time being, though, the status quo will prevail. Because the 6-1-1 format is still in place, the SEC is moving forward to build schedules from 2014-26 based on that plan.

Mark Womack, the SEC’s executive associate commissioner who oversees football scheduling, said work would resume Monday in hopes of announcing a schedule this summer.

Womack said the 2014 and 2015 schedules would be part of the cycle going out to 2026, but that at the same time, the conference would look at all alternative scheduling formats.

“(2014) will be part of the overall cycle,” he said. “But you could stop (the cycle) after Year 2. We are trying to finalize a cycle of games that would fill the 6-1-1 format. If we elect after two years to go with nine games or to stay at eight and go to 6-2 (six divisional and two rotating opponents), we will stop the schedule at that point.”

Womack said the 2014 and 2015 schedules will not be tied to the teams schools played as their rotating opponents in 2012 and 2013. Those were considered “bridge schedules,” to use an SEC parlance, on the road to a long-term format.

But Womack and Alleva said teams’ opponents in 2012 and 2013 would be considered in deciding how to start the next scheduling cycle for 2014 and beyond.

Alleva was displeased that LSU’s rotating opponent resulted in a game at Georgia this year while SEC West favorite Alabama gets a game at Kentucky.

Coupled with Florida, LSU plays SEC East teams that went a combined 14-2 in conference play last season.

Alabama, which has Tennessee as its permanent opponent, faces teams that combined to go 1-15.

“I think we will like the 2014 schedule,” Alleva said. “I pretty much know what it is. I think all (SEC) games are tough, but we will not be playing Georgia or South Carolina.

“What makes it a tough deal is having a permanent partner every year. If we play Georgia and someone else, it would be all right. But Georgia and Florida — that’s not fair.”

SEC coaches voted 13-1, with Alabama’s Nick Saban the only exception, to retain an eight-game conference schedule. Saban supports nine games, with a permanent opponent and two rotating opponents. LSU coach Les Miles is in favor of a 6-2 format.

A nine-game schedule is a real possibility for several reasons, including giving TV networks a larger inventory of conference games and to bring the league in line with other conferences. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 all will play nine games by 2016. The ACC will continue to play eight games, plus five games per year against Notre Dame.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said he is hopeful the SEC can settle its long-term scheduling issues by next year’s spring meeting. He said he would prefer to see what kind of scheduling format would best benefit the conference in terms of its chances to place teams in the College Football Playoff, which begins after the 2014 season, but that the SEC can’t afford to wait.

“At some point, we’ve got to make a decision going forward whether it relates to what we’ve done or not,” Slive said.

Whatever long-term scheduling plan the SEC makes, Slive is certain of one thing: No one is going to get exactly what they want.

“Everyone agrees this is difficult, but I am encouraged that by this time next year, or shortly thereafter, we will have worked through these issues,” Slive said.

LSU and Florida have played each other every year since 1971.