STARKVILLE — Dan Mullen says he never has had a problem scheduling major conference opponents.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi State football coach said in a Southeastern Conference teleconference he is concerned about his school’s ability to get teams from the other major conferences to play a game at Davis Wade Stadium. His comments came three days following the SEC’s announcement that it would stick to an eight-game league schedule but that beginning in 2016 its 14 member schools would be required to play one game every year against an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference, or the Pacific-12 Conference.
“We’ve tried to schedule teams from all the five major conferences in the past,” Mullen said. “We haven’t had a lot of luck in teams wanting to schedule games with us.”
Following Mullen’s comments, MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin confirmed to The Dispatch that MSU likely wouldn’t schedule two-for-one deals that would require it to travel in two of those three games.
“Only two-for-one deals going forward we would do is a deal that involves two home games for us,” Stricklin said.
Other than a 2013 Texas Kickoff Classic game against Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium in Houston brokered by ABC/ESPN that netted MSU a financial payout of at least seven figures, MSU and Ole Miss have scheduled the fewest non-conference games against teams from power conferences since 2008.
MSU officials confirmed to The Dispatch the school likely wouldn’t have considered scheduling that kind of opponent if the new policy hadn’t been adopted. MSU has said its top priority in its scheduling is to create the easiest path to bowl eligibility.
This season, there will be a record 39 bowl games, up from 35 in 2013. The NCAA declared UNLV and Idaho ineligible for postseason play due to Academic Progress Rate (APR) violations. The APR is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates. Penn State also remains ineligible for a bowl in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Mullen also said Wednesday that MSU’s home-and-home series with Southern Mississippi, which begins this season in Starkville at the renovated Davis Wade Stadium, may not continue past the current agreement because the school may have to use that spot on the schedule for a major conference opponent.
“We’ve been very proactive in trying to play quality games, or games that mean a lot to the people here in the state of Mississippi,” Mullen said. “I know on a national level it’s not much, but I know for everybody in the state of Mississippi it’s such a huge game. We went out and said, ‘Hey this is a big rivalry in the state of Mississippi. Let’s try to do something with that.’ In the future that may come off the table.”
MSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn, and Alabama are the SEC schools that don’t have an agreement in place against a power conference school for 2016.
“We’ve reached out to a lot of different people and never got a lot interest in teams wanting to play home and homes with us from the bigger conferences, but we’re going to continue to do so in the future,” Mullen said.
Changes in SEC non-conference schedules already have started. LSU reportedly paid $100,000 to break a contract with North Carolina State that called for a home-and-home series in 2017 and 2020.
The new policy makes opening-week kickoff classic games at neutral sites more appealing. Mullen said he doesn’t have a problem agreeing to another matchup that is similar to the Oklahoma State. MSU lost to OSU 21-3.
“In the injury department, it didn’t represent well for us with two season-ending injuries and a injury to our quarterback,” Mullen said. “For our kids, I think that was a great game to play in. It was an honor to get invited to go play in that game. Hopefully we get to do that more.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday the Crimson Tide have “good opportunities” to play some really good neutral site games in 2016 and 2017. Alabama, which provides the major television networks with solid ratings, has played in a neutral-site classic game to start the season in four of the past six seasons.
While he wouldn’t comment on the process that led to his vote in favor of an eight-game SEC schedule and league schools having to play one major college opponent starting in 2016, Stricklin showed without saying he’d rather play Virginia or Illinois or Washington State than a ninth SEC opponent determined by the league at an unknown time or location. National college football analysts agree SEC commissioner Mike Slive didn’t want his league to be at a disadvantage in strength of schedule, especially with a playoff format being introduced in the fall
“The most important thing is that it makes the conference stronger as a whole and teams don’t have to worry about strength of schedule for the playoff,” ESPN college football writer Edward Aschoff said. “This is a way to feel out the playoff and see how things shake out during the first few years. Slive wants two teams in as often as possible, and if he can do it without having his SEC champion playing 9 or 10 conference games, he will.”
In the league teleconference, other SEC coaches expressed a desire to maintain its same number of home games. Mullen said MSU will continue to try to schedule seven home games. MSU officials have told The Dispatch the school makes around $1 million in revenue for each football game in Starkville. Georgia coach Mark Richt said the most important thing going forward is protecting his team’s home dates. Since 2008, Georgia has scheduled the most games (11) against the power four conferences, but it might not be interested in going beyond its rivalry game against Georgia Tech.
“We pretty much meet the criteria (Georgia Tech) going forward,” Richt said. “We have to be careful how we do it.”
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the perfect schedule for the Rebels starting in 2016 was “one former BCS (power 4 conference) school, one I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) and two mid-major teams.” Since 2008, the Rebels have only played a home-and-home series against Texas and a game at Wake Forest.
Several Pac-12 coaches expressed their discontent with the SEC on Thursday in their spring teleconference, criticizing the league’s decision to stick with an eight-game conference schedule that isn’t equal with other conference’s nine-game league slates.
“I’ve been saying this for three years: I think if we’re going to go into a playoff and feed into one playoff system, we all need to play by the same rules,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You can’t color it. You can’t try to explain it away. You’re not doing what the rest of us are doing it. We’re doing it. The Big Ten is doing it. The Big 12 is doing it. Everybody is pushing toward a nine-game conference schedule.”
However, it seems most analysts agree that conference aren’t going to follow the same scheduling rules.
“The SEC thinks eight conference games plus another from the Big Five is enough,” CBS Sports analyst and writer Tony Barnhart said. “You can’t ‘demand’ another conference do anything. The selection committee could prove them wrong, but it is their choice.”
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.