Debate rages over ninth game

By By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Getting school presidents actively involved in college athletics is one of those things that often sounds better in theory

than the way reality plays out when an academic actually sticks a nose into the huddle.

But in this case it might be worth a shot.

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva says the only way the SEC will expand to a nine-game conference football schedule is for

its schools’ presidents to get involved.

The athletic directors are dead set against it. Most of them, anyway — the last vote was 13-1 against.

Maybe LSU is against it just because Alabama’s Nick Saban is for it.

Who knows?

In LSU’s case, Alleva and head coach Les Miles seem to be spending more energy getting the permanent cross-divisional opponent

— i.e., Florida for LSU — expunged from the equation than in keeping the eight-game schedule.

Evidently LSU doesn’t trust the Gators to stay down for long.

But maybe the two elements go hand in hand.

As long as it’s an eight-game schedule, then LSU has more of a case against having a permanent opponent from the other division.

When you’re only playing two (out of seven) cross-divisional opponents per year, it kind of makes sense to move them in and

out as regularly as possible.

You don’t want your fans to forget Georgia or Kentucky is in the conference.

If it goes to nine games, LSU doesn’t have as much of a case against playing Florida every year.

The SEC office, which doesn’t have a schedule announced beyond the 2014 season, says it’s real close to a permanent solution.

It’s been saying that for several years now, but it’s been a tough nut to crack.

It will be the hottest topic at the SEC spring meetings in May.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten will start in 2015.

Good for them.

That’s of no concern to the big, bad SEC. It’s powerful enough to do what it wants, and certainly doesn’t have to be tagging

along or following whatever is trendy.

But it would be much better for the game.

Let’s be real. The biggest reason most of these schools fear a ninth SEC game is that it gives them one less opportunity to

dip down into the bottom of the food chain for those easy rent-a-wins.

Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, for instance, told Al.com that an extra conference game could cost a

couple of SEC schools per year their bowl eligibility.

Yeah, well, if you can’t get bowl eligible ­— it takes a 6-6 record — without playing Furman, maybe you don’t belong in the

postseason.

But apparently it’s important enough for some schools to “schedule” six victories per season.

And yet they wonder why in-stadium crowds are dwindling even as college football has never been richer or more popular.

LSU, for instance, is still selling all of its tickets so the bottom line isn’t hurting. But when there’s not much doubt about

the outcome of a game among the tailgaters two hours before kickoff, some of the “announced” crowds inside have laughable.

A lot of the traditional powers are starting to worry about tickets sold but not used, particularly with hi-def televisions

tempting people to just stay home.

At some point they might become tickets unsold.

The big schools will tell you that their budgets demand that they get home games without the promise of a return trip to the

opponent’s stadium.

But, at some point, as fans get more and more demanding, it may not be enough to just turn the lights on and collect the cash.

If lackluster nonconference matchups

contribute to watering down of the live, game-day experience, what is

the overall, long-term

cost?

The saving grace of nonconference scheduling over the last decade has been these neutral-site games — LSU-Oregon, LSU-TCU

in Dallas, for instance, and LSU-Wisconsin in Houston to open the upcoming season.

It’s become about the only way you see a compelling nonconference matchup these days.

Schools can pick up good pay days without the overhead and hassle of a home game.

But those aren’t part of season-ticket packages; they aren’t there for the home fans.

And, of course, if the SEC goes to a nine-game league schedule there is an even more frightening possibility.

They might still be unwilling to give up their rent-a-wins. What if it’s the good nonconference games that get whacked?

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com