DESTIN — The final vote on whether the SEC will move to a nine-game league football schedule and eliminate permanent cross-division games won't come at this week's league meetings, but it's clear commissioner Mike Slive won't have an easy task, and there won't be a consensus among the coaches.
The SEC coaches gathered Tuesday for their annual spring meeting and the nine-game schedule was a hot topic. Slive reiterated he remains open-minded through this contentious process.
"I don't believe we'll come to any closure here, but my hope is that everybody here will weigh in on the discussion," Slive said. "When you're talking about scheduling there are different elements, and each one has to be dissected to make sure there are no unintended consequences if we decide to change."
With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri last season, the league adopted the format of six division opponents, one rotating and one permanent from the opposite division. Many coaches have strong opinions about potential changes.
Alabama coach Nick Saban wants a nine-game schedule, keeping one permanent opponent and two rotating. He knows he's in the minority, but said fellow coaches need to look at the bigger picture, not just their own teams.
"The biggest thing that I think we all need to do in some of these decisions that we're making about who we play and what we do is, what about the fans?" Saban said. "Because one of these days, they are going to quit coming to the games; they are going to stay home and watch it on TV. And everybody is going to say, 'Why aren't you coming to the games?' 'Well if you play somebody good we'd come to the game.' So that should be the first consideration. And nobody's considering that one.
"They are just thinking about, 'How many games can I win? Can I get bowl qualified? How tough of a teams do I have to play?' "
Which is precisely one reason Florida coach Will Muschamp said he prefers the eight-game league schedule.
"I'm not for nine because of our in-state rival (FSU)," Muschamp said. "If you had another conference game you're just adding another slippery slope on the step to a championship. And that's just my personal opinion. … The other stuff as far as the permanent, rotating, whatever they want to do is fine."
LSU coach Les Miles has been a vocal opponent of the permanent game — in his case, the Gators. Over the past 10 years, LSU and Florida have each been ranked nine times when the teams met. Permanent rivals Alabama and Tennessee have been ranked once when they met.
"It's an issue of fairness and competitive equity," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said. "I think it's fair that everyone has a chance to play everyone on a rotational basis. You have to play everyone in your division, but after that there should be a true rotation of all the other opponents so everyone has a fair, competitive schedule. … Right now it's not fair and it's imbalanced."
Slive said it's unlikely the changes would take effect before the 2015 season, but he has no set timetable. If there is change, a consensus is unlikely.
"I don't think there will ever be a consensus on that with the coaches in the room," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Because there's coaches like myself who have an in-state rival (Georgia Tech) who's out of the conference. There are some schools who have an in-state rival that's within the conference. So it affects each school a little bit differently."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]