No one model fits all for scheduling

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and Alabama head coach Nick Saban stand with the Leather Helmet trophy after an NCAA football game against Florida State, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. Alabama won 24-7. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Photo by Associated Press
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and Alabama head coach Nick Saban stand with the Leather Helmet trophy after an NCAA football game against Florida State, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. Alabama won 24-7. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

— Always in demand under Nick Saban, Alabama has an advantage when it comes to meeting the SEC requirement that all league teams play a non-conference game against a Power Five opponent every season.

No fuss, no muss, the Crimson Tide simply agrees to accept a hefty check to play a high-profile opponent in a neutral-site game each year, while other SEC teams work hard to negotiate contracts for a home-and-home series years down the road.

In a bind because Michigan reneged on a two-game series that was supposed to begin this year at Ann Arbor, Arkansas was fortunate to line up Notre Dame in 2020 and 2025. Considering the years-long gap between confirmation of contracts and the date of the first game of a home-and-home, the UA’s 2017 announcement was done with abbreviated lag time.

For example, consider the timeline involving other series that include an SEC team:

—Announced in 2014: Texas A&M vs. Clemson, 2018-19; LSU vs. Texas, 2019-20; A&M vs. Notre Dame, 2024-25; LSU vs. UCLA, 2021-2024, LSU vs. Arizona State, 2022-2023; and Mississippi State vs. Arizona, 2022-23.

—Announced in 2016: Auburn vs. Penn State, 2021-22, and A&M vs. Miami, 2022-23.

—Announced in 2017: Tennessee vs. Oklahoma, 2020 and 2024.

Other than facing Penn State in 2010-11, Alabama has played games at neutral sites in Atlanta, Arlington and Jacksonville against non-conference opponents in eight of the last 10 years and won all of them. Alabama opens against Louisville in Orlando this year and Duke in Atlanta in 2019.

Currently, 2020 is open, although there is speculation that Alabama will face Southern Cal in Arlington. Alabama is booked against Miami in Atlanta in 2021, but there is nothing beyond that. For the Crimson Tide, that is no biggie.

For other schools, filling out future schedules is a giant jigsaw puzzle that includes dealing with teams in the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 that only have room for three non-conference games.

Looking ahead, Arkansas has a 2021 game vs. Texas in Fayetteville — a contest originally scheduled for 2009 — and the Notre Dame games. Meanwhile, several teams in the SEC West have scheduled at least a half-dozen games to meet the Power Five conference obligation in the next decade:

—LSU begins a two-game series with Texas next year, and has two games each with UCLA, Arizona State and Oklahoma from 2021 through 2029.

—From 2020 through 2027, Mississippi State has two games each vs. North Carolina State, Arizona and Minnesota.

—Ole Miss has neutral-site games with Baylor in 2020 and Louisville in 2021, and two games each with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest from 2022 through 2025.

—Joining Miami and Notre Dame on A&M’s future schedule is Colorado in 2020-21.

—Auburn is taking the neutral-site route this year and next with Washington in Atlanta and Oregon in Arlington in 2019 before home and home with Penn State in 2021-22 and California in 2023-24.

When the SEC’s schedule upgrade requirement was approved in 2014, then-commissioner Mike Slive said the “non-conference opponent factor … gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking … and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.”

For example, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina of the SEC have rivalry games with Atlantic Coast Conference opponents Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson in late November.

By the way, at the high end of the payouts for neutral-site games, Alabama and Florida State received $5 million each, plus tickets to sell to their fans and free hotel rooms, for their participation in Atlanta last September.

Opponents for many of those attractive games are arranged through 2021 and a few are scheduled beyond that. As long as Arkansas plays A&M in Arlington, the Razorbacks are unlikely to participate in a second neutral-site contest.

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