The Southeastern Conference announced Sunday night it will stay with the 8 conference game format for future football schedules.
Cross-over games, like Tennessee vs. Alabama, will also remain on the schedule.
Now, it is required that all schools play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis.
UT athletic director, Dave Hart, released this statement:
"The announcement from our conference office regarding future football scheduling assures that the Tennessee-Alabama game, one of college football's most historic rivalries, will continue on an annual basis moving forward. Chancellor Cheek and I have strongly and consistently advocated that this rivalry be preserved regardless of any other outcomes resulting from conversations about football scheduling."
Below is the official release from the conference:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Conference release)-
The Southeastern Conference on Sunday announced the format for future football scheduling that is a continuation of the existing format and adds a strength-of-schedule component that requires all schools to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis. The announcement comes after a vote of the league's institutions.
Each SEC team will continue to play eight conference football games per season, to include six games against division opponents and two games against non-division opponents. One of the non-division opponents will be a permanent annual opponent and the other non-division opponent will rotate each year.
In addition, at least one opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 must be scheduled by each SEC school on an annual basis beginning in 2016, with assistance from the conference office.
"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," said Commissioner Mike Slive. "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 concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume' of opponents each and every year."
The announcement is the culmination of a process that began in the spring of 2013 when the SEC presidents and chancellors committed to a review of football scheduling to be completed in time for the preparation of the 2016 football schedule with the objective of establishing a format in the best long term interests of the conference. Approval of the format came at a special joint meeting of the presidents and chancellors of each SEC institution and each conference athletic director held Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.
THE EIGHT-GAME SCHEDULE
"The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games," Slive said. "In fact, just last year, five of our schools comprised the top five toughest schedules in the nation according to the NCAA and nine ranked in the top 20.
"A number of our schools play annual ACC opponents, and recent history shows our schools are already playing a significant number of strong non-conference opponents across the country on a home and home basis or in neutral site games.
From 2006 through games scheduled in 2015, SEC teams will have played 132 games against schools from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. More than half of the SEC schools have played two or more teams from those conferences in a single season at least once during that period and several schools have done it in multiple seasons.
The decision to maintain an eight-game conference schedule allows for a number of other advantages:
• A balanced league schedule for all teams – equal home and away conference games (four home and four away); a nine-game schedule would have resulted in some teams with five home games and others with four on an annual basis
• Accommodates varying institutional non-conference scheduling philosophies
• Allows for marquee neutral site games – the popularity of neutral site games has grown in recent years, as evidenced by large crowds and significant TV ratings for those games that feature major intersectional opponents
THE PERMANENT NON-DIVISION OPPONENT
"Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries," said Slive. "It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions."
The decision to maintain a permanent non-division opponent also presents other advantages:
• Creates annual cross-division rivalries that otherwise would not be annual games
• Provides each team with a traditional opponent for the final weekend of the season
The permanent non-division opponents are as listed below:
• Alabama (west) vs. Tennessee (east)
• Arkansas (west) vs. Missouri (east)
• Auburn (west) vs. Georgia (east)
• LSU (west) vs. Florida (east)
• Ole Miss (west) vs. Vanderbilt (east)
• Mississippi State (west) vs. Kentucky (east)
• Texas A&M (west) vs. South Carolina (east)