Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
8-game schedule gives SEC a different type of variety
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during a game against BYU on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Provo, Utah.
Is a ninth SEC football game each year worth losing the unique out-of-conference matchups that add intrigue to the early part of each season?
That might be the tradeoff in the ongoing discussion that was not quite settled earlier this month at the SEC Spring Meetings. SEC teams will play an eight-game conference schedule in 2024, the first year after Oklahoma and Texas join, but a long-term scheduling decision has yet to be determined.
More from WholeHogSports: Texas and Texas A&M on '24 schedule; Alabama is not
A nine-game SEC schedule is a possibility for 2025 and beyond.
Before he traveled to Destin, Fla., to meet with other coaches and conference leadership, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he thinks that if a nine-game SEC schedule is approved, the league’s requirement for its teams to schedule a non-conference game against a team from another Power 5 conference or a major independent would be waived.
The Big Ten, with a nine-game conference schedule, is reportedly considering dropping its out-of-conference scheduling requirement, too, after the additions of Southern Cal and UCLA.
To be compliant with the SEC’s scheduling mandate, the Razorbacks have four games scheduled against Oklahoma State, and two games apiece against Notre Dame, Utah and Texas Tech between 2024-33.
“For the fans, I think if you stay at eight, you’re going to get a [non-SEC] team that they know that’s going to be able to come in and play us in our stadium,” Pittman said. “Would they rather us in nine have Florida come in here, or would they rather us have Notre Dame come in here?”
Pittman added that Arkansas might play the big non-conference games that are on the books even if the SEC increased the number of conference games required. That kind of schedule — with 10 games against Power 5 teams — would take a physical toll, he said.
The marquee out-of-conference games might provide better competition than another conference game.
Take a look at the non-conference games that will complement the SEC schedule in 2024:
• Alabama at Wisconsin
• Arkansas at Oklahoma State
• California at Auburn
• Miami at Florida
• Florida at Florida State
• Georgia vs. Clemson (in Atlanta)
• Georgia Tech at Georgia
• Louisville at Kentucky
• LSU vs. Southern Cal (in Las Vegas)
• UCLA at LSU
• Ole Miss at Wake Forest
• Mississippi State at Arizona State
• Boston College at Missouri
• South Carolina at Clemson
• Tennessee vs. North Carolina State (in Charlotte)
• Texas at Michigan
• Notre Dame at Texas A&M
• Virginia Tech at Vanderbilt
Oklahoma is the only SEC team without a notable non-conference game on the books that year. That will change.
From an entertainment perspective, the SEC's collective 2024 non-conference schedule trumps anything eight more conference matchups would accomplish. It is hardly shying away from competition, as some commentaries have suggested SEC leaders did by not expanding to a nine-game schedule.
Paired with the elimination of divisions and the new SEC matchups, it makes for the freshest-looking set of games in many years.
The SEC wants to prevent stale schedules. Routine matchups don't always sell tickets or attract large TV audiences.
That is surely one of the reasons why league teams will be guaranteed to play each other home and away within a four-year window moving forward.
More from WholeHogSports: Arkansas' future football schedules
Arkansas has first-time matchups scheduled against Notre Dame in 2025 and Utah in 2026, with return trips scheduled for both series later in the decade.
The Razorbacks’ game at Oklahoma State next year will renew a series that has been dormant since 1980, but that has been played 46 times.
If Arkansas plays at Texas Tech in 2030, as scheduled, it would be the Razorbacks' second trip to Lubbock since the Southwest Conference disbanded in the 1990s.
That blend of freshness and nostalgia makes college football scheduling unique.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.