ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches and administrators have had this week’s SEC spring meetings circled for months, with hopes of resolving many of the logistical issues related to the league’s expanded membership.
“I’m excited for it to be over,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity joked about the how scheduling has become more complicated in adding Texas A&M and Missouri to the league. “How many times have we talked about it? We’ve talked about it in Phoenix, Nashville, New Orleans. We’ve gone through it and now’s where we can finally put it to rest for hopefully a 12-year period with football.”
If only that were the end of the wrangling.
Sure, the university presidents, athletic directors and coaches who will gather this week in Destin, Fla., will likely settle the structure of 14-team conference schedules and attempt to reach a consensus on other pressing league issues. But a resolution is not on the immediate horizon for the league’s biggest issue: a potential college football playoff and the many variables related to its creation.
“I would like to get it all over with, but I think we’re still in about the seventh inning,” UGA president Michael Adams said. “And I think we will come out of Destin with an SEC position on these matters, but there are a lot of moving parts here and I think we have to be respectful of the opinions of the Big Ten and the Pac- and the Big 12 and the ACC and everybody else.
“I’ve lived long enough, I’m not sure I expect us to get closure. I do think we can get closure on a solid SEC position.”
Adams expressed confidence that a four-team playoff will come to fruition, but is not certain how the teams would be selected or where the playoff games might be played. He also does not know how the recently announced SEC-Big 12 bowl game will fit into the league’s postseason plan, although its existence will serve as a safeguard if the playoff proposal runs into unexpected opposition.
“I don’t think there’s any belief that some form of playoff is not going to move forward, but I said this morning -- you may have heard me -- I think there’s both a protection factor and a leverage factor that went into those decisions,” Adams said after last week’s UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting. “Our responsibility is to protect the SEC regardless of what happens nationwide and that’s what we were trying to do there.”
The SEC leadership will have more than enough of its own issues to wade through beyond establishing its stance on a football playoff.
As McGarity mentioned, the expanded league schedule has been a subject of frequent debate and the ADs should finally reach a conclusion in Destin. There they will settle whether an eight- or nine-game conference schedule is appropriate for football in 2013 and beyond and how to rotate games between the East and West divisions.
Count Georgia football coach Mark Richt among the supporters of an eight-game SEC slate -- and he certainly will not be alone among league coaches in that regard.
“For me personally, I think eight’s enough to prove that you’re a good football team and if you win enough games you deserve to move on,” Richt said this spring.
If the league goes with the eight-game schedule, some observers thought it might shift to a 6-2 format, meaning a team would play all six schools in its division and two rotating opponents from the opposite division. McGarity seemed confident the league will stick with the 6-1-1 format -- six division games, one permanent opponent from the opposite division and one rotating opponent from the opposite division -- which would protect the Bulldogs’ annual series against Auburn that started in 1892.
“I’m feeling a lot better about things,” McGarity said of protecting the Auburn game. “I feel real good about that unless something comes up.”
The scheduling situation is even more pressing in basketball, since coaches still haven’t finalized their schedules for the upcoming season. The coaches know is the number of league games they will play, but not the dates. That means they must wait until the SEC slate is finalized to complete their nonconference schedules.
“We’ll play 18 games, we know that, but we don’t know who we’re playing. We don’t know what the rotation is. I don’t think we know how many natural rivals there’s going to be,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said this month. “There’s a couple different models floating out there, so Destin will be an important couple of days for us.”
Other issues always seem to spring up in Destin, where member schools will do far more than collect their hefty annual SEC paycheck -- a sum stemming largely from TV contracts that the league could revise after adding two new members.
The football coaches will likely discuss subjects such as an early signing period, the NCAA’s new kickoff rules and how they might affect player safety and even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s recent assertion that a team’s division record ought to determine the East and West champions instead of overall conference record.
The basketball coaches and administrators will also sit around the table in individual groups to hash out their concerns before the school presidents cast the deciding votes on league issues.
Of course the issue that will receive the most attention is whether the SEC leadership reaches a unified position on a football playoff and how the league’s presidents direct Commissioner Mike Slive to proceed.
“I think there will be some strongly held opinions among the presidents about how those questions ought to be answered,” Adams said. “So how much direction the commissioner’s going to be given, I don’t know yet, but I’ve talked to enough people to know that there is a pretty broad variety of opinions out there.”