Citing rivalry games, SEC looks for more money for 9 conference games (2024)

DESTIN, Fla. — The SEC office hasn’t given up trying to get more money from ESPN in exchange for adding a ninth conference game.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference had “conversations with ESPN’s leadership a couple weeks ago just to re-engage” on the schedule, including to “help them understand that if we stay at eight what’s absent from the schedule.”

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Namely, rivalry games such as Texas-Texas A&M, AlabamaTennessee and GeorgiaAuburn would not be played on an annual basis. The eight-game format calls for each team to only have one annual opponent and play everyone else twice every four years. The nine-game format would have three annual opponents and play everyone else bi-annually.

Alabama-Auburn, Texas-Oklahoma and Georgia-Florida are among the annual games that would be preserved either way. But that makes the previously mentioned games only twice every four years if the eight-game format in the expanded SEC becomes permanent.

For now, the SEC is preserving the secondary rivalries in the 2024 and 2025 schedules, which are eight games. The hope is that experiencing those rivalry games this year, especially Texas vs. Texas A&M, will make everyone — especially ESPN executives — unwilling to not have them take place on an annual basis.

Citing rivalry games, SEC looks for more money for 9 conference games (1)

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“Now that we’re in it, and will experience the renewal of some of these rivalries and some of these games, that will shape some of the thinking as well,” Sankey said. “You can hear the conversation about CFP selection, going through it a year. We’ve got some time. But not a lot of time.”

ESPN executives are here this week, and Burke Mangus, the network’s president for content, gave a presentation to a group on Wednesday that included the coaches. But the schedule is not on the agenda this week, given the focus on the aftermath of the NCAA vs. House settlement.

Still, finding ways to get more revenue is of added importance now after the NCAA vs. House settlement, with schools expecting to pay more than $20 million to athletes starting the 2025-26 fiscal year. But going to a nine-game schedule could cut each way financially: If ESPN provides more money it would be a slam dunk, and the marquee games would have better attendance and general interest. But it would mean half the league having one fewer home game every year, and those are sources of revenue, usually around $2-$3 million per game.

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“People tend to like when SEC teams play SEC teams in everything,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “Yes, we’re very interested in having those conversations. We’ve been distracted but I’m sure we’ll come back to it.”

ESPN and SEC signed their new agreement in Dec. 2020, before Oklahoma and Texas agreed to join the league. The contract has a pro rata clause that calls for ESPN to pay more in the event of expansion, but the increase is only based on what the average payment was for the 14 teams at the time the contract was signed. It was the addition of Oklahoma and Texas that prodded the conference to go to nine games, something that was seen as a fait accompli until it ran into opposition from some programs, such as Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State, while others became reluctant unless ESPN increased payment for the package, which begins this season.

The push for nine games has been helped by the looming additions: Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione both said they are in favor of a nine-game schedule. But Castiglione added that it makes sense to go through one year with the expanded College Football Playoff to see how much schedule strength matters.

“It’s not just the exact same as it would be for the four-team (Playoff),” said Castiglione, a past member of the selection committee. “There has to be a deep conversation about how those kinds of conversations are going to go in the room. You have to value the teams that are going to play very challenging schedules.”

There are still eight-game proponents within the SEC, and Sankey said there remains “healthy conversation” about what going to nine games would mean for bowl eligibility, non-conference scheduling, the CFP and revenue.

Sankey was asked if there was consideration of other formats to keep the rivalry games if they stick with an eight-game schedule. Sankey answered by acknowledging the Big Ten, with a nine-game format, has a different number of annual games for each team.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do that,” Sankey said. “But that conversation has been introduced before. It’s been in the rearview mirror.”

Required reading

  • SEC athletic departments brace for cuts, but how much will football take a hit?
  • SEC football coaches speak out against elimination of walk-ons: ‘Really bad for the sport’
  • SEC’s Greg Sankey says ‘there’s an opportunity here’ for college sports; let’s hope he takes it

(Photo of Greg Sankey: Matthew Maxey / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Citing rivalry games, SEC looks for more money for 9 conference games (3)Citing rivalry games, SEC looks for more money for 9 conference games (4)

Seth Emerson is a senior writer for The Athletic covering Georgia and the SEC. Seth joined The Athletic in 2018 from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and also covered the Bulldogs and the SEC for The Albany Herald from 2002-05. Seth also covered South Carolina for The State from 2005-10. Follow Seth on Twitter @SethWEmerson

Citing rivalry games, SEC looks for more money for 9 conference games (2024)
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