The SEC will set up shop in a beachfront resort here this week, as it does about this time every year, and will tackle topics ranging from football schedules to a TV network. The league’s annual spring meetings, which start Tuesday and run through Friday, will draw the presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, football coaches, basketball coaches and other officials from the 14 member schools. Here are five questions that will greet them:
1. What will the 2014 SEC football schedules look like?
The SEC has struggled to put together its football schedules since the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri created seven-team divisions. When the league belatedly announced its 2013 schedule last fall, it emphasized that the slate — like 2012’s — would be transitional and not a model for an ongoing rotation. (Among the ’13 schedule’s quirks: Georgia will play at Auburn for a second consecutive year.) The 2014 schedule has proved similarly difficult to assemble, but the league plans to unveil it this week.
Teams again will play eight conference games under the so-called 6-1-1 format: six intra-division games, one cross-division game against a “permanent”opponent (Auburn in Georgia’s case) and one cross-division game against a floating opponent. Georgia has been assured Auburn will return to Athens in 2014. For the other Western opponent, it’ll be interesting to see if Georgia goes to Alabama or perhaps Texas A&M, because by the end of this year the Bulldogs will have played a regular-season game against every other SEC West team since 2010.
The concept of permanent cross-division opponents, although in place for 2014, remains a contentious issue in the league and will be debated again this week. LSU coach Les Miles argues vehemently that it produces inequitable schedules.
2. Longer term, will the SEC go to nine-game league schedules in football?
That is a question SEC Commissioner Mike Slive thinks is important to hash out. “In light of the (College Football Playoff), in light of changes, we ought to be discussing how we schedule,” Slive said recently. “Whether we change it or not is another matter.”
Among the arguments sure to be heard for a nine-game league schedule: It would bolster teams’ strength of schedule — a factor in choosing the field for the playoff that begins with the 2014 season — and would replace some of the league’s non-conference mismatches with more compelling games. And among the arguments sure to be heard against a nine-game slate: It would diminish scheduling flexibility for teams that have an annual non-conference rivalry game — such as Georgia’s against Georgia Tech, Florida’s against Florida State and South Carolina’s against Clemson — and could hurt marginal teams’ chances of qualifying for a bowl.
“I think what will be discussed is that some schools would like the SEC to do some research (on nine-game schedules),” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “… I don’t think there’s going to be any vote. We’re just not prepared.”
3. How will the league’s bowl lineup change?
The playoff was the dominant topic of the Destin meetings a year ago, and while most major decisions have been made by now — including last month’s determination that the Chick-fil-A, Cotton and Fiesta bowls will join the Rose, Sugar and Orange as rotating hosts of semifinal games — some ancillary issues will be on the table this week.
“It’ll probably be more educational than anything else this year — how things are going to change in the BCS and the bowl system,” said McGarity, one of four ADs on the SEC’s bowl-advisory committee. For example, he said, “what bowls are the SEC going to align with now? … We’ll probably have a report on some bowls.”
As members of the playoff rotation, the Atlanta and Arlington, Texas, bowls won’t be affiliated with the SEC (or any league) starting in 2014. Charlotte, N.C.’s Belk Bowl and Houston’s Texas Bowl (currently seeking a new title sponsor) are among the possibilities to join the SEC bowl lineup.
4. What’s the latest on the SEC Network?
The SEC created much buzz with its announcement in Atlanta early this month that the league, in partnership with ESPN, will launch its own national cable network in August 2014. The buzz figures to extend to Destin.
“There will be a much fuller update on the SEC Network, for some of us have been involved in it from Day 1 and some haven’t,” said UGA president Michael Adams, who favored an all-SEC channel when the league bypassed the idea five years ago. “There will be some discussion about budget issues the next few years as we transition to that and what the specifics are with the deal with ESPN.”
The SEC and ESPN will share profits from the venture. SEC members expect a substantial revenue boost after start-up costs are absorbed in the first few years. ESPN is in the early stages of attempting to negotiate deals with cable and satellite providers to carry the network.
5. And what controversy might be stoked before the week’s work is finished?
“I can tell you that the First Amendment is alive and well in the Southeastern Conference,” Slive is fond of saying. Expect Steve Spurrier, South Carolina’s outspoken football coach, to again argue that players should get more of the money that they generate for schools. Expect John Calipari, Kentucky’s outspoken basketball coach, to speak his mind. As McGarity put it: “A lot of things bubble up during these things.”
Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this article.