Livescore Sunday, April 21
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DESTIN, Fla. — Among the certainties this time of year in the Florida Gulf are seafood, surf and a passing rain shower each afternoon. At least there are some guarantees this week at the 2023 SEC spring meetings.

Just don’t ask about the biggest debate at Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort this side of grouper or sea bass for dinner.

SEC officials are inching closer to doing essentially nothing when it comes to deciding whether to start playing nine conference games beginning in 2024. For reasons large and small, SEC presidents are likely to stay at eight games Thursday when the issue is scheduled to be voted upon, CBS Sports has learned.

The SEC will most likely decide on a temporarily stay at eight games before reconsidering its options in a year or two.

It appears only five schools of the SEC’s 14 current members support a nine-game league slate: Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M. A simple majority of eight schools is needed for a deciding vote in either direction.

Chief among the obstacles of adding an additional conference matchup is uncertainty whether ESPN will pay for a total of eight extra games in 2024, once Texas and Oklahoma join the league. Also being considered are the additional game’s impact on College Football Playoff contention, bowl eligibility and the bottom line.

Some schools would make eight figures in additional ticket revenue by playing an extra home game every other year as part of that nine-game schedule. Despite that windfall, a majority of programs question the benefit of playing a ninth game.

“The one that hit me: [The system is] not broke,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “Georgia has won it the last two years. Alabama before that.”

And LSU before that. In fact, the SEC has won 13 of the last 16 national championships playing eight conference games.

Some SEC coaches and athletic directors would like to know how much the CFP Selection Committee values a ninth conference game.

With the CFP field tripling from four to 12 teams in 2024, is it worth risking a playoff spot for the nation’s best, most-powerful league to navigate through a process that remains largely unknown and undefined?

“The expanded playoff has to be discussed,” Alabama AD Greg Byrne said Wednesday. “Those additional games, what does that load look like? To me, if we’re going to play more Power Five [nonconference] and SEC games, let’s make sure we’re rewarded for the strength of schedule.”

Byrne isn’t likely to get a definitive answer. Alabama is among a handful of SEC teams that have gone out of their way to schedule at least one Power Five nonconference annually to improve schedule strength. Others programs in the league — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina — play an ACC rival annually; many of those teams are also scheduling additional Power Five games.

All of this began long before the CFP expanded. Now, that uncertainty may become the obstacle in adding a league game.

“I think it needs to be a collective message from the College Football Playoff,” Byrne said. 

He added: “It does complicate it for the good of the game, good matchups. … Teams that go schedule good games like that need to be rewarded and have that be a significant piece of the equation.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban has already gone on record as having flipped, supporting an eight-game schedule now after coming out in support of nine games years ago. There is now more at stake for a championship-chasing program that has scheduled Ohio State, Florida State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame for home and away matchups in upcoming seasons.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey seemingly supports nine games, but he doesn’t have a vote. He also want more clarity from the CFP, though not necessarily for scheduling purposes.

Sankey said the delay in approving expansion early in 2024 was “enormously impactful” in getting the new playoff up and running. To the point that, in 2026 when the current CFP contract expires, one of the few knowns is that there will continue to be 12 teams in the field. Other than that …

“What does any of us know about 2026, if we’re being honest?” Sankey asked.

The commissioner believes the CFP model of six automatic qualifying conference champions and six at-large bids will endure; however, he left the door open for the possibility of 12 at-large bids, which would be a seismic shift for college football.

It doesn’t take a math major to figure out, in that scenario, over half the spots combined would be taken up by SEC and Big Ten schools.

“I’ve said I’d be happy with no [automatic qualifiers] at all in the playoff,” Sankey said.

Byrne said he didn’t have enough information to make a long-term decision.

“I’m on the men’s basketball committee,” he said. “Part of having a committee is having different opinions in the room. I think who you play, when you play them and how you did is really important from a basketball standpoint. It’s really important from a football standpoint.”

How teams are selected to the CFP is one of the most closely guarded secrets in sports. At least the Men’s NCAA Tournament Selection Committee releases a list of their top seeds about a month before the event. Despite a mostly meaningless Tuesday night top 25 release each November, it can be argued the CFP’s is the least transparent of all team selection processes.

Committee members aren’t compelled to release their votes at any point and are encouraged not to do interviews regarding the CFP.

No wonder there is uncertainty in an uncertain system.

Sankey is one of the four original architects of the 12-team playoff. When informed that some of his members feel they don’t have enough information to make that informed decision, he said, “That’s an interesting way for them to communicate their perspective.”

Sankey does not feel interest waning in a nine-game league slate. Georgia AD Josh Brooks participated in the CFP mock bracket procedure before last season and feels similarly.

“I used that opportunity, when I was in that room, to advocate for the SEC, to express my view of how tough these games are to play,” Brooks said. “My opinion is our fans want a better schedule. They want more SEC games.”

“I want us to play the most robust schedule we can get,” said LSU coach Brian Kelly. His entire administration is on record as supporting nine games.

“I think we’re at that point where television demands great matchups. We’re getting to that point now. You’ve got to put in front of your fan base quality competition,” Kelly added.

Then there is perhaps the most salient opinion of any person in any SEC meeting room this week.

“Most overrated conversation there ever was,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said earlier this week. “You got to have something to write about bad. It’s just not that big a deal to me. You have to win your games to advance.”

Overrated? Sure. Overwrought? Absolutely. Overdue?

Sankey would not even commit to a vote being held Thursday.

“We’ll see. Next question,” he said.



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