SEC's 8- or 9-game conference schedule debate on hold, but expanded CFP could factor into decision

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — The debate within the Southeastern Conference about whether to play eight or nine league games is not over, it's just on hold.

After much discussion last year, the SEC locked in a short-term solution to the eight or nine question by agreeing to go with eight games for this season and next, the first two with Texas and Oklahoma in the conference, but leaving open the possibility to change it in 2026.

With more pressing matters to deal with, triggered by the NCAA and power conferences agreeing to a massive lawsuit settlement last week, SEC leaders essentially tabled the schedule discussion this week.

It is still lingering in the background.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and Texas AD Chris Del Conte both re-iterated this week their strong support for playing nine conference games, while Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he thought it was important to stay at eight.

Commissioner Greg Sankey said having a couple of seasons play out with the new, expanded 16-team conference playing eight games under the new expanded 12-team College Football Playoff will help inform the decision.

The playoff reserves spots for the five highest ranked champions among nine major college football conferences and seven at-large spots.

“We have an opportunity to learn from CFP selection this fall,” Sankey said. “We have the bowl access learning.”

The SEC formally changed its by bylaws this week to address revenue distribution for playoff participants.

SEC teams that play in the first round will receive $3 million. A second-round appearance will be worth an additional $3.5 million. Teams that reach the semifinals will receive $3.75 million. Championship game appearances will be worth $4 million.

The SEC and Big Ten earlier this year proposed having multiple automatic bids for their conferences to the CFP. They backed off after some resistance, but officials in both conferences are already talking about the uptick in strength of their schedules after expansion and how they will be closely watching how the CFP selection committee weighs it relative to other conferences.

“They do it every year in the NCAA basketball tournament and do it every year in the baseball tournament,” Del Conte said. “You just saw that right now (with the baseball tournament). You have teams say, ‘Well, I didn’t get in.’ You didn’t play anybody."

The SEC's new exclusive television deal with ESPN/ABC kicks in this year. After years of being on CBS, now the SEC's signature game of the week will be slotted at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC. The ESPN deal will pay the SEC $7 billon over 10 years.

SEC leaders believe more conference games should be worth more, but ESPN is under no obligation to pay more for an expanded league schedule.

Sankey said earlier in the week the conference had met with ESPN executives to re-engage about future schedule models, with an emphasis on what matchups could be played more frequently with a nine-game schedule.

“There’s always factors and there’s a lot more than money involved,” he said. “We don’t always do things, despite what people cite, for money.”

Sankey has touted the ability to lock in kickoff times well in advance for more games as one of the benefits of having an exclusive deal with ESPN. On Thursday, the network announced the kickoff times for every game scheduled for an early Saturday afternoon start and some other notable games.

The Egg Bowl rivalry between Mississippi and Mississippi State is moving off Thanksgiving night, where it has been played since 2017 and frequently throughout its history, to Black Friday. It will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. EST and air on ABC.

The Georgia Tech-Georgia game will also move to that day after Thanksgiving, with a primetime kickoff on ABC.

The first Red River Rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma as members of the SEC will be played Oct. 12 and kickoff at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at


AP college football: