DESTIN, Fla. -- Temporarily pausing long-term conversations about whether to increase its intraconference schedule, the SEC on Thursday decided to continue playing eight league games for the 2024 season as Texas and Oklahoma increase membership to 16 teams. The one-year stop-gap schedule will also see the removal of divisional standings with the league's top two teams meeting in the SEC Championship Game at season's end.
The SEC had been split into East and West divisions since 1992. In the single-standings format, all league programs will face each other a minimum of two times (home, away) in a four-year period, regardless of whether the SEC eventually decides on an eight- or nine-game conference schedule in the future. That in itself is progress as some SEC teams have gone as much as a decade without home-and-away meetings against a single opponent.
The eight games will be randomly assigned based on "fairness and balanced," according to commissioner Greg Sankey, who added that consideration will be given to traditional rivalries, such as Alabama vs. Auburn and Florida vs. Georgia.
Beyond the eight conference games, SEC teams will be mandated to play at least one nonconference Power Five opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 (or a major independent) in 2024. Fifteen of 16 programs already have such game scheduled; Oklahoma previously agreed to a series with Georgia that was canceled once the Sooners joined the conference.
The schedule format was approved by the SEC Presidents and Chancellors, which received a recommendation from the league's athletic directors during the 2023 SEC spring meetings. While representatives from Texas and Oklahoma were present, they were not eligible to vote.
"We have been engaged in planning for the entry of Oklahoma and Texas into the SEC since the summer of 2021, but the change of the membership date from 2025 to 2024 creates scheduling complexities that can better be managed with a one-year schedule," said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement.
"Creating a one-year schedule will provide a longer on-ramp to manage football scheduling around existing nonconference commitments of our members," he continued. "It will also provide additional time to understand the impact of an expanded College Football Playoff and engage with our media partners as we determine the appropriate long-term plan for SEC football scheduling.
"During this time of change, our fans will continue to enjoy traditional rivalries and begin to see new matchups presented by the addition of two historically successful football programs to the SEC."
The SEC will hold a June 14 primetime special on SEC Network to announce each team's 2024 opponents.
The obstacles of moving to a nine-game conference schedule were too big to overcome at this juncture. Among them: Uncertainty whether ESPN would even pay for a ninth game, impact on College Football Playoff and bowl eligibility.
Some schools would make eight figures in additional ticket revenue alone by playing an extra home game every other year in a nine-game schedule. Despite that potential windfall, a majority questioned the benefit of playing a that additional game.
Sankey, though, has no concerns about criticism of the SEC's decision to stay at eight.
"Nobody's shying away from anything," he said. "We just didn't add another game in a time of transition."