What's next for SEC football scheduling with Oklahoma, Texas officially joining in 2024?

With Oklahoma and Texas officially joining the SEC ahead in 2024, the future of the SEC's football scheduling is beginning to come into picture.

As the conference swells to 16 members, the need for an updating scheduling format is obvious. Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, has said as much.

For years, the central debate has been whether to play eight or nine conference games. As other conferences have moved to nine games, the SEC has remained at eight. But with two new members coming, other factors and objectives come into play.

In an interview with Cole Cubelic and Greg McElroy on WJOX in Birmingham, Sankey said that league officials have explored "dozens of scheduling models" since it was first announced that Oklahoma and Texas would be joining the league.

And with it now confirmed that those two schools will join the fold in 2024 instead of 2025 (as previous contractual obligations dictated), the process for coming to a decision has accelerated.

Sankey said Friday that he views the SEC’s spring meetings in May as the “far end date” to arrive at a decision.

The fact that the expanded College Football Playoff and the SEC’s new ESPN deal are coming in 2024 also contribute to the need to come to a decision.

"The sooner the better now that we have clarity around the expansion to 16 and the timing of that expansion. That's really helpful in making decisions," Sankey told WJOX. "Knowing where the CFP is in 2024 is a helpful piece of information and working with our TV partner will be a helpful piece of information."

With no more divisions, will SEC play 8 or 9-game schedule?

Sankey said the SEC has focused on scrapping divisions and moving to a “single-division format” just as the ACC and Pac-12 have already.

The SEC is still undecided about sticking with an eight-game conference schedule or going to nine, Sankey said. Whether it’s eight or nine, Sankey said a main focus is making sure teams play one another more frequently.

“We saw games last year — Missouri at Auburn, for example — that hadn’t been played since we added Missouri back in 2012. The one that sticks out most is that Georgia has not traveled to College Station since Texas A&M has been a member. That shouldn’t happen,” Sankey said. “We shouldn’t be going 12 years between campus visits. We should be rotating our teams through more frequently.”

A key point of discussion is maintaining the SEC’s rivalries, whether it’s on an annual basis or an every other year basis.

“We’ve been intentional about discussing our ability to have annual rivalries played or rivalries played every other year. We haven’t arrived at a destination between eight or nine games. The number of games will facilitate the number of annual games that take place,” Sankey said.

Sankey said the league has worked "through every kind of possibility" for future scheduling over the last year and a half. And according to Sports Illustrated, there are two preferred formats with one leading candidate as the broadcast partner, of course, playing a prominent role in the proceedings:

Last spring, the league narrowed more than 30 scheduling models to two divisionless formats: an eight-game format where teams play one permanent opponent and seven rotating opponents (1-7 model); and a nine-game format where teams play three permanent opponents and six rotating (3-6).

Administrators continue to lean toward a nine-game model, but there is still an unanswered question that lingers over any decision: If the conference moves to a nine-game conference schedule, will ESPN give the SEC additional revenue?

Toughest task: Choosing permanent opponents

If the league decides on a nine-game schedule as many expect, the biggest hurdle would be choosing the three permanent opponents for each team.

The ACC, which has 14 members, already went through that song and dance with its 3-3-5 format. The 3-3-5 scheduling model has teams play three primary opponents annually and then face the other 10 teams twice during a four year cycle, once at home and once on the road.

Some ACC fanbases were not thrilled with their three permanent opponents. That’s sure to happen in the SEC, but Sankey said “balance and fairness” have been “guiding principles” in this process.

“We’ve looked at the bandwidth of balance and fairness in a schedule,” Sankey said. “We’ve worked with athletic directors to define what that means. You’re always going to have variances in the competitive nature of a schedule based on the other teams’ success and your teams’ success in that particular season.”

With 16 teams, it will be a tall task for the SEC to try to thread that needle when rivalries and balance are key components in assembling the future schedules.