If Tennessee loses to Alabama this upcoming Saturday — which is likely — the Vols will pick up their second SEC loss of the season, making it that much more probable that the LSU-Florida game will have a bearing on the SEC East race. The fundamental point to retain from this situation is that if LSU-Florida needs to be played to decide the East title, it will be played. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s better than a 50-50 bet.
While the college football world lingers in uncertainty on this issue, it’s worth exploring: How can this situation be avoided in the future or — at the very least — minimized?
Skeptics will correctly say that moving back the SEC Championship Game one week will be highly problematic. CBS airs the Army-Navy Game that Saturday. A national game other than Army-Navy shouldn’t occupy Heisman Trophy Saturday. Anyone who might play in the SEC Championship Game and merits Heisman consideration would not be able to attend the ceremony. That’s not the way to go in terms of revising the college football schedule in future years.
The solution contains one fundamental item and one offshoot flowing from that reform.
It’s simpler than you might think, if you spent the weekend (like many others) thinking about ways to avoid future LSU-Florida episodes.
It is a legitimate point of concern that young athletes play in withering late-summer heat. Deaths, cases of dehydration, and general worries about players being pushed too hard in brutal conditions have made the college football community rightly attentive to August football. The Kickoff Classic and other “early-season” games, which began in the 1980s, did not sustain their foothold in the industry and its scheduling practices. Many of us who cover college football enjoyed the idea of a stand-alone showcase game in late August, but playing in searing midday heat did not help players or fans.
This leads to the recommended solution: no, not a Kickoff Classic redux, but the shift of Week 1 to the final Saturday of August.
It’s necessary. It’s time.
If the back end of the schedule in December can’t house a makeup game or a one-week delay, the schedule has to be adjusted on the front end. It’s not so much that December doesn’t work (though that’s part of the equation); the more specific point to make is that an earlier start to the season enables every team to have another bye week built into the schedule. That’s the offshoot which provides scheduling flexibility and a better chance of making up games.
When considering the idea of schedule-based elasticity regarding makeup contests, it has to be acknowledged that this doesn’t apply equally to programs across the country. It’s patently clear that SEC and ACC programs (among Power Five conferences) and Sun Belt or Conference USA schools (also the Florida-based AAC schools plus Tulane) have the greatest chance of staring down a postponement, as LSU and Florida had to deal with this past weekend. Pac-12 and Big Ten schools are in the clear on this front unless they play in SEC or ACC locales in Week 1.
This nuanced element elicits a note which connects to the previous issue regarding late-August heat.
Week 1 should be in late-August, but — for reasons stated above — it doesn’t have to be a large-scale schedule. Much as the first Saturday of December involves 12 to 16 games, Week 1 could involve a similar volume of games. Naturally, the games would be in SEC and ACC venues, or in any Southeastern locations, including the Sun Belt and more.
With a small schedule, these games could be played in evening and nighttime hours. Game one of a TV schedule could start at 5:30 Eastern time, game two at 9 Eastern. Another network or channel could have a 5 and 8:45 pair of games.
If LSU and Florida and other schools played a late-August Saturday night game, and then scheduled mutual byes on the same Saturdays later in the season (say November 5), they’d enter late September and early October with readily available outlets for makeups. This general framework would require all sorts of tweaks, but it’s the fundamental gateway toward a sound solution.
College football scheduling needs many adjustments. As LSU and Florida know all too well, not having a mutually available bye week has become a problem. With a Week 1 opener in late August, this problem could be avoided in the future.