Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin (left) and MSU head coach Dan Mullen (right) must decide quickly which power conference schools to schedule from 2016 and beyond after new SEC regulation. Photo by: Mississippi State athletics
April 28, 2014 10:58:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- Four years ago, Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin couldn't have made his school's scheduling philosophy more clear.
"My hope is we play a really good high-profile non-conference opponent every December or January," Stricklin said in May 2010 while referencing a bowl game. "I want to schedule in a way that allows us the opportunity to do that."
Over the next four years, MSU has made it a point that it wasn't good for business in Starkville to have MSU schedule major conference schools in its non-conference slate. Four years later, business has changed.
Other than a 2013 Texas Kickoff Classic game against Oklahoma State in Reliant Stadium in Houston brokered by ABC/ESPN and provided MSU with a financial payout of at least seven figures, MSU wouldn't ever consider scheduling that without calling the Troy, UAB and South Alabama's of the world.
After MSU lost 21-3 to the Cowboys in August 2013, Stricklin took to Twitter apologizing to all Bulldogs fans for scheduling such a difficult opening game to the season.
"I believe this @HailStateFBall team is good," Stricklin tweeted after the loss. "Tough foe in game one (that's on me). Thank you fans for the support. See you at #DavisWade!"
Months later Stricklin was one of reportedly 10 athletics directors voting to approve a measure starting in 2016 to force him to schedule in such a way that could make it more difficult for MSU to assume four near automatic non-conference victories.
"I like our position after this. I really do," Stricklin said. "By 2017, we are very flexible with our football schedule so I'm confident we can find things that will make sense for us and work."
The Southeastern Conference announced Sunday announced the voting approval of a format for future football scheduling to include a strength-of-schedule component requiring all schools to play a school from either the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis.
Each SEC team will continue to play eight conference football games per season, to include six games against division opponents and two games against non-division opponents. One of the non-division opponents will be a permanent annual opponent and the other non-division opponent will rotate each year.
Approval of the format came at a special joint meeting of the presidents and chancellors of each SEC institution and each conference athletic director held Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.
"The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement released through the league office Sunday.
MSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Alabama are the SEC schools that currently do not have an agreement already in place to play a non-conference game against a school in these power four conference schools.
The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog researched the schedule agreements of schools in the power five conferences and learned only nine potential opponents exist to schedule Mississippi State in 2016. Only nine schools in the other four power conferences don't already have a contract in place with a power conference school: Boston College, Baylor, Kansas State, West Virginia, Maryland, Purdue, Arizona, Utah and Washington State.
"By 2017, we are very flexible with our football schedule so I'm confident we can find things that will make sense for us and work.," Stricklin said in a phone interview Sunday. "It's not like going to grocery store if you're not one of those schools that does it every year. You must find a brand that wants you too."
A possible short-term solution for Stricklin and MSU is to call former MSU Director of Athletics Greg Byrne, who left MSU for the same position at Arizona, and schedule a home-and-home series against the Wildcats. When Byrne announced he would be taking the job in early 2010, he publicly campaigned his desire for a partnership to schedule MSU in many sports while understanding football could be difficult "because the schedules are done so far in advance". The Wildcats, currently coached by former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, have only BYU and FCS member Grambling State on its 2016 schedule. In 2017, Arizona only has signed deals with Houston and UTEP.
Four SEC members in the Eastern Division of the SEC (SOUTH CAROLINA vs. Clemson, GEORGIA vs. Georgia Tech, FLORIDA vs. Florida State and KENTUCKY vs. Louisville) annually play rivalry games against ACC membership schools already.
Here's a graphic that suggests SEC schools already consistently scheduling power school opponents:
SINCE 2008 AMOUNT OF GAMES SCHEDULED vs. POWER CONFERENCE SCHOOLS
ALABAMA - 7 - (Clemson, 2 Virginia Tech, Duke, 2 Penn State, Michigan)
ARKANSAS - 6 - (Texas, 3 Texas A&M, 2 Rutgers)
AUBURN - 6 - (2 West Virginia, 3 Clemson, Washington State)
FLORIDA - 8 - (6 Florida State, 2 Miami-Fla.)
GEORGIA - 11 - (6 Georgia Tech, 2 Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Clemson)
KENTUCKY - 5 - (5 Louisville)
LSU - 7 - (2 West Virginia, 2 Washington, North Carolina, Oregon, TCU)
MISSISSIPPI STATE - 3 - (2 Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State)
MISSOURI - 7 - (3 Illinois, 2 Arizona State, Syracuse, Indiana)
OLE MISS - 3 - (2 Texas, Wake Forest)
SOUTH CAROLINA - 9 - (6 Clemson, 2 N.C. State, North Carolina)
TENNESSEE - 5 - (2 UCLA, 2 Oregon, N.C. State)
TEXAS A&M - 4 - (3 Arkansas, Miami-Fla)
VANDERBILT - 8 - (Duke, Georgia Tech, 2 Northwestern, 4 Wake Forest)
As far as the permanent opponent from the Eastern Division of the SEC, MSU will continue to draw Kentucky as an annual contest and Stricklin said he saw this current agreement as a better compromise for MSU than the approval of a ninth SEC game to future schedules.
"I certainly like the 8-game schedule and feel it has served our league pretty well by the amount of national championships and title game appearances in the last decade," Stricklin said. "I did not think we would want to add another SEC game to our schedule because I didn't see the benefit of such a move."
From 2006 through games scheduled in 2015, SEC teams will have played 132 games against schools from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. More than half of the SEC schools have played two or more teams from those conferences in a single season at least once during that period and several schools have done it in multiple seasons. Since 2008, MSU has played three games against a power conference school and is 0-3 in those contests. In 2008 and 2009, MSU played in a home-and-home series against Georgia Tech.
"Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume' of opponents each and every year," Slive said.
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