The SEC is sticking with eight conference games for its 14 teams, though it has a twist.
Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play a team from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12. Notre Dame can be played as well.
"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 statement. “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 institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents."
As the Big Ten moves toward a nine-game schedule and the Pac-12 and Big 12 already have one, an extra conference game was under consideration by the SEC. However, it elected to keep its current format and mandate a game against a major conference opponent.
It's an idea that will help the SEC's strength-of-schedule in theory as the college football playoff selection committee vows it will make strength of schedule a serious factor in its decisions for the four playoff spots. But as we all know, not all major-conference schools are created equally. No one is going to argue that a game against a 2013 Kansas squad would be better than against a 2013 Northern Illinois team.
Could an SEC team with a poor major-conference opponent be marked down when compared head-to-head with a team with the same record from a conference with nine games? It's not out of the realm of possibility.
“The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games,” Slive said. “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.
“A number of our schools play annual ACC opponents, and recent history shows our schools are already playing a significant number of strong non-conference opponents across the country on a home and home basis or in neutral site games."
10 of the SEC's 14 teams are already playing at least one major conference team in 2014. Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt do not.
The continuation of the eight-game schedule also keeps the 6-1-1 format of six intra-division games, a rotating inter-division game and an annual game against a rival school from the opposite division. LSU, a school opposed to expanding the conference slate to nine games, is unhappy with the decision to stay with the current format.
The Tigers' permanent cross-division rival is Florida.
"I'm disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn't understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally but we don't share our opponents equally."
In addition to LSU-Florida, the other games are Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia, Missouri-Arkansas, Texas A&M-South Carolina, Mississippi-Vanderbilt and Mississippi State-Kentucky.
Alleva said the conference schedule would be kept for six to eight seasons. Before Sunday's announcement, the SEC schedule had been set only through 2014.
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