When Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC in 2025, a reconfiguration of the football schedule will need to take place as the conference will then contain 16 members.
Scheduling formats and how the SEC could handle realignment – i.e., keep or throw away divisions – were hot button topics during the league’s annual spring meetings last week in Destin, Florida. It’s likely the SEC will ditch divisions, as a crop of conferences like the Pac-12 have already done so following the NCAA no longer requiring conference championship games.
The SEC has been kicking around division-less eight- and nine-game conference schedule models. The eight-game format would have one permanent opponent for each school and seven games against a rotation of opponents; the nine-game schedule would contain three permanent and six rotating opponents.
While the coaches and administrators debated and discussed the oncoming growth and potential methods, no plan was officially announced for football.
How would each potential scheduling realignment affect South Carolina? And which one should Gamecocks fans root for? Let’s examine.
SEC football schedule with eight games, no divisions
The 1-7 format would most likely allow South Carolina to maintain its longstanding rivalry showdown with Clemson at the end of every regular season.
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It opens up chances to see former SEC West divisions teams far more often for the Gamecocks. They would play the remaining 14 teams once every two seasons and have to travel to each school once in a four-year cycle. Players getting an opportunity to play every team during their eligibility has been a scheduling talking point for years in the SEC, and this model would alleviate that.
But the 1-7 alignment would cost USC traditional rivalries with Florida and Tennessee. It’s likely Georgia would be South Carolina’s permanent opponent. Both of these developments would be a detriment to the Gamecocks.
SEC football schedule with nine games, no divisions
For USC, the 3-6 schedule creates a few issues. The Clemson game will be a priority for the football program, but if nonconference dates are reduced from four to three, some tough decisions would have to be made for USC administrators: keep Clemson, play two cupcakes but have a smaller chance to make a bowl game or walk from their in-state rival and schedule three winnable nonconference games.
If the league moves to nine games, the Palmetto Bowl would be in trouble as it wouldn’t benefit South Carolina to have to Tigers on the schedule.
Another part of that is due to the permanent opponents the Gamecocks would have. Georgia and Tennessee would most likely be two and the third could be either Florida or Kentucky. Or maybe Auburn, due to proximity.
Finding six wins the schedule on a consistent basis could be hard for South Carolina in the 3-6 format.
Which is better for South Carolina football?
While a nine-game SEC schedule carries all the financial benefits, for the Gamecocks the 1-7 format would be better from an on-the-field perspective.
Yes, it’s true, Williams-Brice Stadium would be fuller for a South Carolina-LSU game than a South Carolina-Middle Tennessee State game and the TV money would be much higher. But the 3-6 format could cost the Gamecocks a sure-fire sellout at the end of the season against Clemson and present a steeper climb to bowl eligibility in any given season.
For South Carolina, playing Georgia every year in the 1-7 schedule wouldn’t be great, but the model gives way to needed variety of league games and the Clemson game would stay on the schedule.
What should South Carolina fans root for?
The majority of South Carolina fans will want to play Clemson every year, despite the most recent results not being in their team’s favor.
The Palmetto Bowl is talked about year-round in the state. To keep the game alive, USC fans should want to the SEC to decide on the 1-7 schedule format.
Gamecocks fans won’t be too excited about matching up with Georgia every season, but seeing other conference foes more often would be a plus. The path to a bowl game would be easier playing just eight league contests.