The Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) has played a nine-game conference schedule since 2006. The Big 12 will start playing a nine-game conference schedule during the 2011 season due to the conference shrinking to ten teams. Just a couple days ago, the Big 10 announced it will move to a nine-game schedule in the 2017 season.
With 3 of arguably the top 4 college football conferences playing 75% of their schedule in conference, will the SEC make the transition to match any time soon?
Coaches in the Big 10 are opposed to the 2017 shift. The three nonconference games will still probably be filled with cupcake teams to ensure bowl eligibility. Where the downsizing will have its effect is on the sexy nonconference match-ups between BCS conference programs. Teams will be less likely to undertake these marquee matchup when there are less nonconference games available to make up for possible L's incurred in big match-ups.
The nine-game schedule has been criticized in the Pac-12. Take for example last season: only 4 teams out of 10 were able to go to bowls. Three Pac-12 bowl tie-ins were given to teams from other conferences to fill the void. The extra conference game ensures six more losses will be assigned to teams within the conference, instead to teams outside of the conference.
With only three nonconference games, scheduling for traditional rivalries will be very tight and in some cases, these games may have to be abandoned. Strength of schedule is less important in college football than it is in college basketball. Generally, the number of W's is looked at before who those W's came at the expense of. Interesting games pitting foes of different leagues and styles will become rarer. A four-home, four-away conference schedule will now become an unbalanced four-home, five-away league schedule one year and a five-home, four-away league schedule the subsequent season. The only advantage I see in a nine-game conference schedule is it may give a slight boost to teams' attendance figures.