SEC coaches discuss scheduling topic that Georgia’s Smart considers ‘overrated’

Missouri Athletics photo / Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings that some fans could turn to other forms of entertainment if many of the league's rivalries are taken away.

If there is one Southeastern Conference football coach who would seemingly be front and center for the argument of maintaining an eight-game league schedule when Oklahoma and Texas arrive in 2024, it would be Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz.

In the three years Drinkwitz has been at the helm of the Tigers, they have posted regular-season records of 5-5, 6-6 and 6-6. Having eight SEC games moving forward allows for four nonconference foes and a better opportunity for postseason play, but Drinkwitz is balking at the proposed eight-game model in which there would be just one annual opponent and seven that would rotate for two games in a four-year stretch.

The SEC's nine-game proposal contains three annual or permanent opponents and six that would rotate for two meetings in four years.

"I like the setup of three permanents, and I think the more permanents you have, the more you can measure your program against consistent opponents," Drinkwitz said during a news conference Tuesday as the SEC's spring meetings opened in Destin, Florida. "I also think it preserves the basis of the SEC. The Southeastern Conference is the best conference in college football because of its fans and the passion of its fan base, and I think you run the risk of losing that.

"The reality is that preserving the primary and secondary rivalries of this league are important to the league and to the fan base, and it's important now more than ever with the competition for the dollars. If you move too far away from it, you're going to open the door for fans to travel to other venues for entertainment."

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, "We'll see," on Tuesday night when asked whether his league's scheduling dilemma could finally be resolved this week, adding, "It will give you guys something to write."

The league's 1-7 model would eliminate rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and LSU-Ole Miss from taking place annually, but there has been discussion of the SEC implementing a bridge schedule for 2024 that would have eight games but would protect those matchups.

Drinkwitz was asked why several coaches would continue to prefer eight league games in a 16-team conference.

"I think most coaches are wired because of the high turnover of our jobs," he said. "It's hard to have any vision other than what's right in front of us in the next six months. My argument is that one permanent and seven rotating games does not allow for enough consistency. Our conference ebbs and flows with teams that are up and down, except for maybe the top two or three, so you may get a year when your seven games are against teams that are having a heck of a run.

"When you get the consistency of knowing at least three of your opponents, you can measure yourself."

Future scheduling was an expected topic Tuesday, but so were discussions about name, image and likeness (NIL), tampering in the transfer portal and gambling.

"We didn't really debate the nine and eight today as much as you guys think," Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin told reporters. "It didn't really come up as far as who wants what. We actually did that more a year ago."

Georgia's Kirby Smart called the scheduling topic "the most overrated conversation there ever was." Smart doesn't see it being that big of a deal given that both models have every league team playing every other league team home and away in a four-year period.

As the defending two-time national champion, Smart is focused on other ways the two models could alter things.

"The bigger topic for me is that is somebody going to get an advantage by not going to the SEC championship but making the playoff," he said.

Smart did field a question about potentially not playing Auburn each year in what is recognized as the Deep South's oldest rivalry.

"That would be tough," he said. "There are so many people who want that historic rivalry, including me. I was part of that rivalry, and it's one of the best there is, but it's one of the costs of progress of bringing two more teams in. Sometimes you call that progress, and sometimes you upset the fans.

"Your traditionalists want these rivalries, and others want to see you play the teams they never get to see you play, and you can't have both."

Issues, issues

Sankey described NIL as a "runaway freight train at the state level," and coaches appear to be struggling with its limited parameters just as much as last year.

"I don't know if anybody has the answers of what to do," Kiffin said. "They know what they don't like. We all know that and what to complain about, but no one really has the answer about what exactly to do.

"I don't think anybody can tell you the market value for a quarterback or a receiver."

When it comes to tampering in the transfer portal, Smart said there are often two sides to every story.

"Tampering has been going on for a long time, and it's probably more prevalent because it's more easy to transition from one school to another by way of the portal," Smart said. "If kids are exploring to leave, it's really hard to police.

"People want to blame the coaches for the tampering, but a lot of times it's the player who is negotiating or is looking for greener pastures. When they do that, sometimes they create the tampering. It goes both ways."

CBS swan song

With the SEC's 10-year agreement with ESPN's family of networks that includes ABC beginning in 2024, this marks the final season of the "SEC on CBS."

The first CBS broadcast of its swan song will be South Carolina's trip to Georgia on Sept. 16, which will have a kickoff time shortly after 3:30 p.m. Tennessee travels to Florida on Sept. 16, so it's highly likely the Vols and Gators will have an evening clash.

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