The South Carolina football schedule is going to look a lot different in 2020, but which of the changes may stick around once the landscape of the sport gets back to normal?
South Carolina, along with the rest of the Southeastern Conference, is expected to participate in a conference-only 2020 college football season. This brings about both possibilities and questions.
There could certainly be some changes that absolutely no one would want to stick around, like the loss of out-of-conference rivalries, but there could also be some positives that arise from the new format.
What permanent changes could result from the 2020 conference-only slate?
MOST LIKELY TO STICK
A nine-game SEC schedule
The most reasonable scenario to come from a conference-only schedule would be the league’s move to a nine-game SEC slate. As of now, many are discussing a possible 10-game schedule for 2020, which obviously would mean 10 games against SEC opponents for South Carolina.
The league has received criticism in the past for only participating in an eight-game conference season, while the Big 10, Big XII, and PAC-12 all implement the nine-game rule. The SEC’s reasoning usually goes back to the difficulty of adding another top-notch opponent to an already brutal schedule for most members, but if a conference-only 2020 provides fans with more entertaining, high-profile matchups, there could be a push to make the move.
The positives of adding that ninth game may outweigh the negatives. I’m fairly certain that most Gamecock fans would be more intrigued with watching a South Carolina vs. Auburn matchup as opposed to a late November contest against Wofford, no offense to the Terriers. And there could easily be another off-week thrown into the season to help teams with rest and recovery.
It would also produce more cross-divisional games, and would ensure that players at each university would have an opportunity to visit each of the 14 campuses over a four-year career. Permanent matchups of Auburn/Georgia and Alabama/Tennessee have slowed the rotation between the SEC East and West. A nine-game slate could alleviate that, while still keeping those long-standing rivalries intact.
Should an all-SEC season be more competitive and entertaining in 2020, the league may want to think about adding that extra in-conference game.
Eliminating FCS opponents
Building on the last point, there could also be a push to eliminate contests versus FCS opponents. Improving the product on the field is always at the top of the list when it comes to major college sports. It’s the reason we’ve seen high-profile season kick-off games become more and more prevalent. More intriguing matchups result in more butts in seats and more eyes on TVs.
Getting rid of cupcake matchups makes the season more fun and more competitive. And being able to replace that cupcake game with another SEC opponent would just increase the interest in the sport.
The major drawback is that FCS schools rely on the paychecks from these games to fund their athletics. A solution could be either trying to increase FCS vs. Group of Five matchups, or possibly creating an FCS fund for a yearly payout. The NCAA certainly makes enough money to make it happen.
THE LONG SHOTS
Getting rid of the SEC East and West could help ensure that the best teams always represent the league in the SEC championship game. It would eliminate the possibility of a team sneaking into the title game due to having the luxury of winning a weak division.
Take this example from the 2001 SEC title game. LSU came into the game with an 8-3 record while playing in an SEC West that had no other ranked teams. Tennessee represented the East, with a 10-1 record while having played three other SEC East foes that finished in the top 25. LSU pulled an upset in the title game and was crowned the SEC champion, despite the fact that four SEC East members also had a record of 8-3 or better prior to season’s end. LSU may have been better that day, but that certainly doesn’t mean they were the conference’s best team.
In a non-divisional format, the SEC title game would’ve been a matchup between Florida and Tennessee, both of whom finished the year ranked in the top five nationally. It’s a rule the Big XII currently uses to decide it champion, though they don’t have enough teams to implement a championship game.
Eliminating divisions would be the best way to determine the league’s true champion.
An expanded college football playoff
With the feeling that all conferences will move towards a league-only schedule this fall, there have been grumblings to expand the college football playoff. The thought behind the idea is that with each conference playing only conference opponents, we will actually get the chance to see which team is a true conference champion.
With that being said, it’s not necessarily fair to exclude one of the Power Five leagues, since no interleague contests will be played throughout the year. For example, take this season’s original schedule into account. Playoff contenders Oregon and Ohio State were set to meet early in September. The winner of that game would’ve had a leg up in the playoff race over the loser, and had both teams been vying for that final playoff spot, the result of that early season matchup could’ve impacted which team was selected and which was left out.
Instead, we’ll have five true champions, one from each league. How can the committee gauge which teams are most deserving of the playoff spots if none of the conference champions have either met head-to-head, or had a similar opponent?
Moving to a six-team playoff would allow for each league champion to earn their place, while also allowing for either Notre Dame or the top Group of Five school to fill the sixth and final slot.
If each of these scenarios were to come to fruition, we could start to see a shortened regular season that determines the one true conference champion from each league, followed by an expanded playoff that finds the team most deserving of the national title. Sign me up!