NCAA Rule Makes SEC's 13 Team Schedule A Virtual Impossibility

Published on: October 12, 2011 | Written by: Clay Travis

OKTC has already written about why a 13 team SEC schedule is complicated as hell. What OKTC reported a month ago was there was no way to play an eight game schedule while each team played every member of its division. Last week the SEC athletic directors met to consider the complexities of a 13 team schedule now that Texas A&M's admission is a foregone conclusion and OKTC has learned that a major point of that discussion was an NCAA rule that requires every football team in a division to play another football team in that same division.

That rule states as follows:

17.9.1.2 (c) Twelve-Member Conference Championship Game.  [FBS/FCS]   A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division;

This provision is important because it is the exemption that allows a conference title game to exist in the first place.

If Texas A&M is added to the SEC and this rule is followed every SEC West school would be required to play six divisional games while every SEC East school would still be required to play five conference games. (For those already asking, right now you also need divisions in order to play a conference championship game). You can see the complexity that develops in a hurry, it's impossible for every school to play eight conference games while following this NCAA rule. I'm not a mathematical genius -- hell, I'm barely mathematically competent -- but the easy way to look at this is that after playing six divisional games every SEC West school would still need two conference games. Meanwhile after playing five divisional games in the round robin format every SEC East school would still need three additional games to get to eight.

Put plainly that's impossible.

Uh oh.

Now are you getting a further idea for why Missouri to the SEC as a 14th member for 2012 makes so much sense to many in the SEC?

Since the SEC has publicly announced that it plans to play the 2012 season as a 13 team conference, the league debated two options to deal with this NCAA rule at last week's athletic directors meeting.

Those options were:

1. Ignore the rule citing existing precedent.

Why would the SEC even think to do this?

Because the MAC has been violating this NCAA rule ever since it went to 13 teams in 2007. The conference never applied for a waiver and no one at the NCAA has called them on violating the round-robin divisional play rule. So there's some precedent out there that suggests a 13 team conference can simply ignore the rule and the NCAA won't enforce that rule. 

The MAC has seven teams in the east division and just six teams in the west division. (The MAC will add UMASS next season to get to 14 so it is curing its own issue with 13 teams).

Right now the MAC schedule has four teams in the seven-team east division playing five division games and three games against teams in the west. Meanwhile three east division teams play all divisional opponents and only two teams from the west.

That violates NCAA rules.

(It also creates a huge flaw. What if two teams in the larger division both go undefeated and don't play each other? That hasn't happened yet in the MAC, but what if, say, Arkansas and Alabama both went undefeated in 2012 and never played? How do you decide who represents the SEC West in the title game? Presumably that's the reason for the round-robin divisional rule.)

Now, the MAC might have gotten away with this because no one cares about the MAC. Or it might have gotten away with it because no one has read the NCAA rulebook that closely. Or it might have gotten away with it because the NCAA is hoping no one has noticed that the MAC is getting away with it and doesn't want to make its rule invalid by publicly acknowledging the violation and lack of censure.   

Hell, I don't know how the MAC has gotten away without applying for a waiver.

Neither does the SEC.

So one option on the table is to simply follow the MAC's lead and ignore the rule. But, clearly, that has a danger. Especially since the MAC will have 14 teams in 2012 and will no longer be violating the rule.

2. Apply for a waiver.

OKTC requested a comment from the SEC about whether or not the league would be applying for a waiver of this NCAA rule and heard back Thursday afternoon. SEC spokesperson Charles Bloom responded without addressing the waiver question: “We have been and remain aware of the rules governing scheduling, and will continue to consider appropriate options.”

Applying for a waiver is the safest bet, but what if the NCAA didn't grant the waiver?

Then an eight game SEC schedule for all teams is an impossibility.

3. Have some schools play more than eight conference games.

You can imagine how popular this would be with the schools hit with nine conference games. Put simply, OKTC is told that playing more than eight SEC games is not happening. SEC schools believe that eight conference games is plenty.

But for a short period of time, a season, for instance, could some schools play more than eight games?

Doubtful.

It's a tremendous competitive disadvantage to play one more conference game than the majority of the conference would play. It also raises the possibility that, say, a 6-2 team in conference with a head-to-head victory over a 7-2 team could lose out because the other team got an extra game to play. Or vice-versa. What if the team with the head-to-head win played an extra game and lost to get to 6-3? Then the 6-2 team that lost would get in by virtue of playing one less game.  

This is a virtual non-starter.

4. The simplest solution for how to deal with a 13 team conference? Don't become a 13 team conference.

Which brings us back to Missouri.

While Mike Slive may be saying, "We anticipate being a 13-team league in 2012-13." The reality of the situation is this: the SEC needs 14.

...

OKTC would like to thank y'all for choosing to stay informed on conference realignment here. We'll stay on top of the story going forward, but OKTC has broken more news than every major news site combined on conference realignment.

 Read all of OKTC's conference realignment stories here.

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