Marc Daniels: To Play Or Not To Play 8, 9...Or 10 Conference Games

2022 CFP National Championship - Georgia v Alabama

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The SEC has talked about it. They have debated it. The Big Ten, Pac 12 and the Big XII have been doing it and it is a big deal and it might even become bigger.

With billions and billions of dollars being thrown at conferences in new media deals the networks doing the throwing want and have the ability of telling these conferences how many league games they believe can justify the amount of money in these massive contracts.

The Big Ten and the Big XII have been playing nine conference games. The Big XII has been playing a round-robin format since it had ten teams. The Big Ten went to nine in 2016 and Pac 12 started before them.

Now, with another round of movement taking place with USC and UCLA to the Big Ten and the possible moves of the Big XII with teams in the Pac 12 deciding their future, the discussion about number of conference games is laying low but a big story.

The new SEC media deal with ESPN kicks in with the 2024 season and most believe the league will grow its schedule to nine games. Another week of conference games is worth more money and more eyeballs to any network and that's why there are some who wonder in a world of 16 teams in a conference, or more, that perhaps there will be a push for 10 conference games.

For a team like the Florida Gators, a move to nine SEC games per season has a ripple effect on their future schedules. AD Scott Stricklin has been aggressive in adding quality non-conference after his school took an approach to not play such games. But Stricklin may have to get creative and become a deal breaker if the league adds a game. In 2024, the Gators have non-conference games with Miami, Samford and UCF at home and end the season at FSU. If he has to dump or move one of those games, it will come down to Samford or UCF. He ain't dumping the Miami game and can't get rid of the FSU game. Playing a nine game conference slate is tough enough in the SEC and UCF fans may not like the fact that a game with Samford is more appealing in the sense of having an easier game on the schedule. I am not saying Florida is scared to play UCF, just saying schools look to keep a game or two they know are easy wins. Florida has four non-conference games set for 2025 and 2026 as well.

As for UCF, the Knights have struggled to fill non-conference dates for a variety of reasons. It's been hard to get P5s to agree to play home-and-home series and many P5s simply did not want to come play in the sweltering heat of September in a game they may lose. Moving into the Big XII helps ease some of the scheduling challenges UCF has had because after playing eight league games for years, the Knights will play nine in the Big XII. But nine game conference schedules also means years where you will have four home conference games and five road games. Most teams like playing seven home games because of the revenue playing at home. That becomes a challenge for UCF in a league that wants its members to play at least one P5 non-conference game a year. UCF has no future schedule that already has four non-conference games but if most conferences move to nine and possibly ten games, the Knights may find some scheduled future P5 games in jeopardy.

Miami and FSU have a few future years with four non-conference games set. 

But it is not that crazy to think ESPN, FOX, CBS, Turner and anyone else who is in or will get in the conference rights business will push for 10 conference games. Again, more conference games means more money for all. And we all know money makes the college sports go round.

If the push for 10 league games becomes real, then everyone will have issues in dumping future games. And if leagues mandate conferences play at least one P5 non-conference game then coaches and fans need to prepare for fewer undefeated seasons. 

Whatever the future is for the college football playoff, it will be interesting to see not just how many teams are involved or who gets automatic berths, but how teams will be chosen. Will the committee rely more on a strength of schedule model? Will teams be rewarded for who they play and where they win and not just overall record? Could a team go 8-4 and be more worthy than a team that is 10-2 if the four-loss team played a much tougher schedule?

There are many ramifications of expanding all these leagues. Yes, there is more money, in most cases, to be made. But more conference games and fewer easier non-conference games means more losses for some teams and means many scheduled games for the future may never be played. It's just another item college football faces in its ever changing world...

Final: The first ever conference in college football was the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives founded in 1895. It became the Western Conference and today you know this league as the...Big Ten

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