FAYETTEVILLE — The idea of expanding to a nine-game Southeastern Conference football schedule generated plenty of discussion the past two years.
But in the end, the conference decided to maintain the status quo.
The SEC announced Sunday evening it was sticking with an eight-game conference football schedule. SEC teams will play six games against division opponents, one rotating cross-divisional game and one permanent opponent from the other side.
The SEC also announced each team also must play at least one opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 on an annual basis beginning in 2016.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement the conference’s existing strength was “certainly a significant factor” in the decision to remain at eight games.
“This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule,” Slive said. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.”
The announcement came after a vote by the conference schools. The format was approved after presidents, chancellors and athletic directors from each SEC institution gathered for a special joint meeting in Atlanta on Sunday.
“The decision to retain an eight-game conference schedule while adopting provisions to ensure quality non-conference scheduling was a result of constructive dialogue between coaches, athletic directors and university presidents,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement released by the program Sunday night. “I believe that this solution respects the history of traditional SEC matchups while strengthening non-conference scheduling across the board in our league.”
The SEC also announced the permanent cross-division rivals for each program Sunday. Arkansas’ opponent is no surprise. The Razorbacks will begin an annual series against SEC East foe Missouri beginning next season.
Other cross-division games include: Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Texas A&M-South Carolina. The Razorbacks had played South Carolina as its permanent SEC East opponent since both schools entered the conference in 1992.
Long said in a statement Arkansas welcomes the annual game with the Tigers.
“We look forward to building a competitive rivalry with the University of Missouri in all sports,” Long said. “I believe this new rivalry will create excitement for our fans and will benefit both institutions.”
Arkansas won’t have any trouble meeting the SEC’s policies of playing at least one nonconference game against a power conference opponent beginning in 2016.
The Razorbacks currently have nonconference games set against Texas Tech in 2014-15, TCU in 2016-17, Michigan in 2018-19 and play Texas in 2021. Arkansas has not announced a power conference opponent for its 2020 schedule.
“I believe that this solution respects the history of traditional SEC matchups while strengthening non-conference scheduling across the board in our league,” Long said Sunday. “At the University of Arkansas, we have proactively taken those steps with non-conference series scheduled with Texas Tech, Michigan and TCU.”