Texas and Oklahoma's impending move to the SEC -- it still feels weird to type that, more than 72 hours after it became official -- will have enormous ramifications for everyone outside the conference's castle walls, that's well understood. But bringing the Red River rivals will have enormous implications for everyone living inside the walls, too.
For starters, everyone seems in agreement that the 6-1-1 model needs to go. That's the model the league currently uses: 6 intra-divisional games, one annual crossover rivalry, and one rotating crossover. The model worked well enough when the SEC was a 12-team league, but keeping it intact with for the 14-team era created a reality where Texas A&M, having joined the conference in 2012, won't host Georgia for the first time until 2024. There appears to be no appetite for preserving this arrangement with two 8-team divisions.
So what, then, will the SEC do next?
Both SI and The Athletic report that, early in the process, the SEC is leaning toward a 9-game conference schedule. This has been a gripe among many Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 schools, who have all played 9-game league schedules for years. While it's a myth that (most) SEC teams shy away from difficult non-conference games, it is true that an 8-game league slate gives the conference an advantage. In a sport that punishes losses more than it rewards wins, an ninth SEC game guarantees eight extra losses spread across the league.
The feeling is that the rewards will be worth the eight extra collective losses. ESPN wants as many SEC games on its air as it can get. Fans want to see their conference rivals as much as possible -- or at least much more often than they currently do. Getting the Longhorns and Sooners in your stadium will be great, yes, but old-school SEC schools want to see old-school SEC teams play each other. Next month, Florida hosts Alabama for the first time since 2011.
The following models have been trotted out as possible replacements to the divisional structure:
3-6: Three permanent rivalry games, six rotating games. This would allow each team to play the 12 "other" SEC schools every other year, and to host them every four years.
This may be a pod, or it may not.
For example, Texas A&M has worked hard to build a rivalry with LSU, and the Aggies would presumably like to continue that. Texas, though, would much rather get annual games with Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Arkansas. You can't put LSU, Texas, A&M, OU and Arkansas in the same 4-team pod.
A pod structure requires Texas A&M to choose between LSU and Texas, whereas in a pod-free arrangement, each team essentially has its own pod. Texas may play A&M, OU and Arkansas annually, while A&M gets Texas, LSU and, say, Mississippi State.
3 + 4 + 1: This would keep the 8-game structure intact, where a team would play its three pod-mates, plus the entirety of another pod, plus an annual rival from another pod. In this structure, Auburn can still play Georgia every year, Texas can play Texas A&M every year, Arkansas can play LSU, Kentucky can play Tennessee, and so on and so forth.
This, though, creates its own problems. What if Kentucky's pod plays Tennessee's -- they can't play each other twice. The current annual crossover set-up preserves some important rivalries -- Alabama-Tennessee, Georgia-Auburn -- but does anyone really need to see Texas A&M-South Carolina every single year? Is that an institution worth preserving? And it doesn't get all 15 teams on campus once in a 4-year rotation.
3 + 4 + 2: Teams play their three pod mates, all four teams from one rotating pod, plus half of a third pod. You lose annual cross-over rivalries like -- from the above example -- Texas-A&M, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Alabama and the like, but all 16 teams play each other every other year, and every team visits each campus within four years.
Of course, the elephant in this room is that no one currently knows for sure when Texas and Oklahoma officially join the league.
-- Texas and Alabama will play regardless in 2022 and '23, but will those games count in the SEC standings or not?
-- For schools like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky, what becomes of their future non-conference schedules? Nine SEC games plus an in-state, non-conference rivalry game plus a Power 5 non-conference game plus the SEC championship game plus a 12-team Playoff is a lot, to say the least. In 2030, Georgia plays Clemson and Ohio State in non-conference play, on top of Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs could conceivably play a 17-game season, all 17 against high-level competition.
-- What becomes of Bedlam? Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz said Friday OU intends to play Oklahoma State in all sports. Does that game remain on Thanksgiving weekend? If Texas and Texas A&M play annually, does that fall on Thanksgiving weekend? If so, who does LSU play? Arkansas? If so, who does Missouri play? Is this the impetus to resume their Border War rivalry with Kansas?
There's no perfect solution. Someone is bound to leave the room unhappy, and so there's plenty of incentive for schools to work backchannels (and the media) to build support for the model that works to their maximum benefit. The meeting to determine the scheduling model figures to be more competitive and intense than any SEC championship game.
“(Greg) Sankey has to figure out who does each team want to play. He has to ask each team,” one source told SI. “He doesn’t care who you don’t want to play. He cares who you do want to play.”
It's early, but the proposals that seem to have the most support indicate the SEC is focused on the right things: dropping the arbitrary divisional structure in favor of an equitable arrangement that preserves rivalries while allowing each SEC student to see all 15 teams play in their stadium at least once in four years of study.... while also creating the best possible TV product and preserving the league's national dominance.
You know, like a conference is supposed to do.