Skip to main content

Explaining why the SEC adopting 9-game league schedule in 2026 is the 'smart' decision

Alex Weberby:Alex Weber02/15/24
Andy Staples Explaining Why The Sec Adopting 9-game League Schedule In 2026 Is The 'Smart' Decision | 02.15.24

Scheduling is one of the primary topics of discussion around the SEC since their recent conference expansion to add Oklahoma and Texas, with the debate centering around whether to remain at an eight-game league schedule or move to nine games.

The SEC will remain at eight for the coming year, and likely the next, according to recent comments from Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte. Beyond 2025, though, he believes the path to a nine-game schedule is very possible. On3’s Andy Staples believes the move to nine is the only “smart” choice available given the new layout of the league, and explained his rationale on the On3 YouTube channel Thursday morning.

But first, for context, here is the statement from Del Conte, via InsideTexas, on the future of the league schedule:

“We have eight games scheduled right now. We’re working on going to a nine-game schedule, but we have a ways to go with that. I would say this year we have an eight-game schedule. The following year, we have another eight-game schedule. Then we’ll look at going into a nine-game conference schedule.”

After reading that quote live on the show, Staples agreed that it does make sense to go through with a pairing of eight-game SEC slates in 2024 and 2025, since the currently-scheduled rivalries could be played home and away before a possible overhaul in 2026.

“It’s probably the easiest way to do it, because you don’t have to build both schedules from scratch. So it gives them a chance to kind of breathe a little bit and then figure it out,” he commented. However, beyond ’25, he thinks some of the major rivalries could be in jeopardy if the league does not move to nine games.

“You get to 2026, you’re going to start missing TexasTexas A&M games, AuburnGeorgia games, AlabamaTennessee games,” Staples said. “Those fanbases, for the most part, don’t want to miss these games.”

While Alabama wants to protect their rivalries, they were also a school who heavily favored the eight-game model when they realized the nine-game one could involve them playing some of the league’s top opponents each year.

“Alabama was one of the ones who came out against the nine-game conference schedule, even though Nick Saban said he didn’t mind playing nine or 10,” Staples said. “But when it looked like it was going to be Tennessee, Auburn and LSU as their three permanent opponents, suddenly, it didn’t seem so great.”

To Alabama, Staples says you can’t have your cake and eat it too, because the Crimson Tide were also a major reason the SEC stuck with its current 14-team scheduling model for so long.

Since the league was divided into divisions, and some rivalries were cross-divisional (like Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia, etc.), the SEC opted for a model where each team played their six divisional opponents, one annual rival from the other division, and then one rotating game against the six other teams in the opposite division — thus producing SEC schedules where only one matchup changed each year.

So obviously, these rivalry games are of utmost importance, and Staples believes the eight-game model will make them tougher to pull off.

“I don’t think they’re going to get to a year where they skip the Texas-Texas A&M game. I have too much faith in the intelligence of the people running the SEC for that to happen. You can’t do that. You have to play that game every year,” Staples said. “You probably have to play Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee every year, too. But you have to play that game.”

That logic, plus the Del Conte comment, certainly paints the picture that the SEC will soon move to the nine-game format. But don’t go etching that in stone yet, says Andy Staples.

“I don’t know that it’s going to happen; I think it’s what a lot of people want to happen. I also think it’s probably what the leadership in the SEC wants to happen, because it gives them a better product going forward,” Staples said. “There will still be resistance, because I tweeted out what Del Conte said with the explanation of thinking they’ll just flip the schedule for ’25 and go to nine in ’26 — and immediately got a text from one of the schools that would like this to be reconsidered and maybe stay at eight: ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t a done deal yet.’ And I said, ‘I know it’s not a done deal.’”

Staples then explained that there are alternatives to staying at eight games and potentially still fitting those rivalries in. He looks to the Big Ten, where they will play nine conference games with their expanded 18-team league, however, some teams have multiple annual rivalries and some don’t. It’s just more uneven, which SEC fans may not like. But in his eyes, the nine-game format with just 16 teams and three permanent rivals works out perfectly.

“So, it’s either going to be eight games with one fixed opponent, the dumb one; or it’s going to be nine games with three fixed opponents, the smart one,” he added. “Because the reason the math works out, everybody else who isn’t a fixed opponent, you play every school twice every four years. You play home and away every four years. It makes mathematical sense.”

In the eight-gamer, you either get uneven schedules or miss out on rivalries some years.

“But again, the eight-game one is stupid because you don’t get Texas-Texas A&M, Auburn-Georgia or Alabama-Tennessee every year, and the nine-game one is smart,” Staples continued. “So, the question is: come 2026, will they pick the stupid one or the smart one? That’s really it.”

Of course, all this talk of future scheduling and having the math work out with 16 teams could get tossed out the window, if the past 20 or so months are anything to go off of, since you never know when another round of conference realignment will strike and alter the picture entirely.

“So all of this could change. It’s entirely possible that between now and a year from now, something happens with Florida State and the ACC, perhaps the Big Ten expands again, maybe the SEC will take more,” Staples said.

“I don’t see the SEC moving to take more unless the Big Ten does. But if somebody gets freed up from the ACC, and that would be Florida State, North Carolina or Clemson could be in that mix as well — then I think there would be movement, there would be changes, perhaps alterations of TV deals where they say, ‘okay, we now want nine conference games.’”

But with more teams comes more headaches in scheduling.

Per Staples, it’s just hard to see a reason why the eight-game model makes more sense than the nine-game model, especially with the current 16-team SEC which would allow for three permanent opponents with the other 12 rotating every two years for the other six games.