SEC could tweak scheduling philosophy once Texas, Oklahoma arrive in 2025

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A chorus of boos showered down from the sellout crowd at the Swamp as Alabama coach Nick Saban led his players onto the field before kickoff between the top-ranked Crimson Tide and host No. 11 Florida.

It was a matchup typically found on a Saturday in the SEC.

But this was the first time that Alabama has been to Gainesville since Oct. 1, 2011.

It’s unusual that the two top football programs in the conference, who have appeared in 13 championship games apiece, haven’t faced each other during the regular season in a decade.

“This is a huge opportunity and the Texas-OU situation provides a great opportunity for us to dig in and look at how we schedule from a football standpoint. We need more variety,” Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin told the Orlando Sentinel recently. “Of our eight SEC games right now, seven are the same each year in a 14-team league. It makes no sense. I know why we do it but we have to get creative.”

Stricklin pointed out that the Gators haven’t played at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium since 2011.

“We have like two freshmen classes almost from the standpoint of going to these kinds of events,” he added.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who was in attendance for Saturday’s game, said the league is studying ways to alleviate those scheduling quirks, especially with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma set for July 1, 2025.

“Obviously it’s going to be different when we go to 16 [teams],” Sankey said. “Let’s take a step back, let’s think big picture. Let’s figure out how to rotate teams through campus and then what does that allow? I haven’t excluded anything beyond that.”

Florida isn’t the only SEC program missing some of these star-studded matchups. Georgia hasn’t traveled to College Station to take on Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012 and the Bulldogs’ next scheduled trip isn’t until 2024.

Increasing the size of the league’s membership could open the door for more matchups like the one that took place in Gainesville. Some believe that increasing conference games from eight to nine or even 10 could also help alleviate the situation.

“I don’t want to get into the whole scheduling thing, but we played 10 SEC games last year and I thought it was great for fans,” Saban said earlier this week. “I thought it was great for the matchups. I’ve always been one that advocated playing more SEC games in the regular season so that every player and every program would have the opportunity to play every team in the SEC.”

Added Stricklin: “There’s a good chance the SEC adds conference games.”

Sankey isn’t ready to commit to the idea just yet. There’s speculation that the Pac-12 and Big Ten could eliminate conference games as those leagues work to accommodate scheduling matchups with the ACC as part of the newly formed Alliance partnership.

“It is interesting that I’m being asked about going to nine games and they’re talking about going from nine to eight,” Sankey said.

“We’ve got incredible growth rivalries that we can feature games that may not be rivalries that we can feature that should drive our thinking, in my view,” added Sankey, who also pointed to last weekend’s showdown between Texas and Arkansas as an old rivalry that can be renewed as well.

Sankey was recently asked by a basketball player during a recent leadership call if it’s possible Texas and Oklahoma could join the SEC sooner than 2025.

“It’s 2025. Why do you ask me?” Sankey recalled. “[He said] I want to play those guys. That’s our mentality. We want to challenge ourselves.”

And about a move sooner than that?

“We’re focused on 2025. We wanted to be respectful in the announcement, knowing these things are always difficult,” said Sankey. “There’s no confetti cannons, no lasers. We want to be respectful of our colleagues knowing it’s difficult and are focused on an orderly transition.”