Are we seeing the first signs of fragmentation in the nations top NCAA football conference? The SEC has recently announced that beginning in 2016 all schools must schedule one conference game against a school from one of the other “Big 5” conferences. With limited scheduling room already this may be the first sign of a chink in the armor of the nations top football conference.
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M expanded the SEC to 14 teams. It is unlikely that any other conference could maintain such a high membership number and remain relevant. It makes scheduling very difficult. The schedule begins to get watered down when teams within the same conference don’t play each other for years. Fans begin to notice. One begins to question the meaning of a championship when some of the leagues best teams don’t even play on the field.
Many supporters of the SEC would argue that this move is made possible by the dominance of the SEC conference. The conference has been the nations premier conference as of late; but this may not be enough to sustain this argument. Several teams within the conference do not seem as supportive of the new rule as others.
Take a school like LSU for example. Not only are they in the grueling western division but they are also locked into a “rivalry” game every year against the Florida Gators. The idea that the conference offices can dictate natural rivalries alone is reeks of hubris. What happens though when a school like LSU notices that the schedule is absolutely unfair. Their road to a national championship is significantly more difficult than teams in its own conference, let alone other national powers.
Now the SEC powers at be have decided they also can demand to dictate the level of play of one of your non-conference opponents? The road just got a little harder. Especially for the power schools. It is hard to imagine mid-range teams lining up to face Alabama or Auburn. Now they will probably have to schedule games against the elite teams of other major conferences. At what point do teams have to stop looking out for their conference and look out for themselves.
For now the SEC is the cash cow of the NCAA. Don’t expect any big changes. But eventually the NCAA cycle of life will change. Some other conference will go on a hot streak. What happens when the SEC goes on a cold spell. Will some of the powers that be start to wonder if they might be suffering from a bloated watered down league? How long will the LSU and Florida’s of the world want to carry the Vanderbilt’s and Tennessee’s? No the SEC is not falling apart anytime soon. But someday, when it does, we may look back to this rule as the beginning of the end that we all should have seen sooner.