SEC Non-Conference Schedules Leave Something To Be Desired

Photo Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was all over the world of sports talk radio. Alleva spoke on how he doesn’t want to play Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Thursday to how he wants to play every home game at night to not wanting the league to expand to a nine game conference schedule.

Then, there was one topic that had me scratching my head. While speaking to a local radio program in Baton Rouge on May 19th, Alleva addressed the issue of brining more high profile non-conference matchups to town:

     “Literally 80 percent just say ‘no’ right away. They’re a little more open to the so-called neutral-site game. That’s why we were able to attract a Wisconsin, a TCU … BYU in the future. Teams don’t want to come to Tiger Stadium and get their butts beat, that’s just a fact of life. I’m being as blunt as I can be…they don’t want to schedule losses.”

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

Giving the Tigers some credit, they do play more high quality games outside of the conference than other teams in the league (including future home and homes with Texas, UCLA, Arizona State and Oklahoma), but to sit there and say teams are scared to come to Baton Rouge is a joke. With the exception of the 2011 season, the Bayou Bengals have been good for about three losses a season for the better part of a decade.

I don’t want it to seem like I am picking on LSU, because this is a problem many teams (especially the elite of the league) have. Sources inside meetings between SEC and non-SEC schools trying to schedule games have said the same thing. SEC schools over the last decade, thanks to that seven year run of championships, come into the meetings with the idea the other school should count their stars a school from the SEC is even taking the meetings. They will never play the first game of the home and home schedule on the road, which for a lot of teams is the deal breaker. That’s why, in the words of Alleva, eighty percent just say no right away.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Schools in the league promote the “toughness of the SEC” as the reason why they need to schedule FCS and Sun Belt cupcakes to fill the rest of their schedules. Schools like Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina (with the new rule requiring at least one team on your schedule from another Power Five conference) use their rivalry games with Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson. If the league is as good as the programs (and their fans) say it is, it wouldn’t hurt the Gators to schedule Oklahoma (or renew their rivalry with Miami) or the Gamecocks taking on Michigan in something other than the Outback Bowl.

The only way schools like Wisconsin or TCU or Oregon can get games with SEC schools is to settle for these neutral site games that, quite frankly, turn into anything but. Schools from the league won’t budge an inch on the idea of going on the road for the most part, so other schools give up. The Florida Gators have not played a non-conference game outside the state of Florida since 1991. A single player on the 2015 roster wasn’t even born when the Gators traveled to Syracuse and were promptly beat.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Look at the future schedules of the league. Florida plays Michigan, Tennessee plays Virginia Tech, Alabama plays USC and Ole Miss plays Florida State all at neutral sites. The only true home and homes are Georgia playing Notre Dame, Tennessee playing Nebraska (in 2026-27) and Arkansas playing Michigan.

All conferences in the FBS should have their non-conference schedules be like the NFL until these schools get serious out scheduling real home and home series. Have each school get to keep their one non-conference game for a rivalry or whatever you want (FSU vs. Florida, South Carolina vs. Clemson, etc.) and then the rest of it goes conference against conference. It would be great to see the Big Ten plus four taking on the SEC for the remaining three games, or the ACC taking on the Pac 12 or the Big 12 minus two against Conference USA. It sounds like a drastic strategy, but it’s the only way you can see the SEC scheduling better games.

This isn’t as much of an epidemic in other leagues that make a concerted effort to improve their non-conference schedules. It would be a great move if the “toughest” league in college football would join that same game plan.

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