It's high time for the powers that be in the SEC — not the coaches or athletics directors but the university presidents and chancellors — to take the plunge and add a ninth conference football game.
Simply put, eight is not enough.
This will come to a vote in the next few weeks. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said the university CEOs will make the call on future football scheduling prior to the conference meeting on May 27-30.
Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors Southeast Regional meeting earlier this week, Slive laid out the options. Option No. 1: eight conference games or nine. Option No. 2: retain permanent cross-division rivalries or not.
My vote: a nine-game conference schedule and continuing the permanent cross-division rivalries.
I say this knowing full well that all cross-division rivalries are not created equal. Alabama-Tennessee long has been a fixture on the October schedule for both teams. Georgia-Auburn has similar historic impact.
Other so-called "rivalries" are nothing more than arranged marriages. What's the history behind Kentucky-Mississippi State or Texas A&M-South Carolina?
Back to UT-Bama: I'm sure a lot of Vols fans would like to drop the Crimson Tide in favor of, well, anybody. UT has lost seven straight to Alabama, with the past four of those by a combined score of 157-39. But current events should be ignored in favor of tradition. Games like UT-Bama are part of the fabric of the SEC.
If the university CEOs listen to their football coaches and athletics directors, they'll stick with an eight-game SEC schedule. Among coaches, Alabama's Nick Saban is the only outspoken advocate for a ninth game, and athletics directors normally side with their coaches on such matters.
But the university presidents and chancellors may be influenced from another party — ESPN. Since ESPN is running the SEC Network, it has a very loud voice.
VIDEO:Watch SEC Network's Tennessee video
With the SEC Network coming on line in August, there is a need for more meaningful, attractive games. And in the eyes of those footing the bill, an Arkansas-Nicholls State matchup isn't the kind of inventory they want. Replacing a bad non-conference game with an SEC game — any SEC game — is a step up in the eyes of the network.
Consider some of the clunkers on this season's schedule: Alabama-Western Carolina, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Texas A&M-Lamar, Missouri-South Dakota State. I've just scratched the surface.
At Vanderbilt, Derek Mason inherits a non-conference schedule that has James Franklin's fingerprints all over it — Temple, Massachusetts, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion. When it came to non-conference games, Franklin charted the path of least resistance. Remember, Vanderbilt canceled a game at Ohio State and wiggled out of a series with Northwestern on his watch.
The thinking behind this is obvious. The Commodores want to get four games that are as close to sure things as possible. If they go 4-0 outside the conference, they're two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility.
Judging from some of the non-conference schedules elsewhere in the SEC, the Commodores aren't the only ones intent on buying victories.
There are some prime non-conference games involving SEC teams. Both Georgia and South Carolina maintain their rivalries with Clemson. Florida-Florida State is a classic. LSU plays Wisconsin this season. One year after getting assaulted at Oregon, Tennessee visits Oklahoma.
Sure, there are downsides to upping the ante. With a nine-game SEC schedule, half the teams would play one more conference road game than home game in a given season. Bowl eligibility would be impacted for some programs.
Joe Alleva, LSU's athletics director, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that an extra SEC game "means seven more losses for certain teams."
Can't argue with that logic.
But there long has been a haves/have-nots separation in the SEC. Consider: Over the past three seasons, teams in the top half of the conference in each season own a combined 87-5 record over teams in the bottom half.
The rich get richer. Stronger programs beat weaker programs. And that's not going to change if you play eight SEC games or nine.
As for the top-tier programs, there is concern that a ninth conference game will get in the way of making a national championship run. Funny, but I heard the same complaint back in 1992 when the SEC went from seven to eight conference games and split into divisions in order to stage the SEC Championship game.
The fact that the SEC has won 11 national championships — including a run of seven in a row at one point — over the past 22 years undermines that argument.
In sum, SEC football is known for its excesses. With a 14-school league, going from eight to nine conference games is a natural progression.
David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Reach him at 615-259-8020 or on Twitter @DavidClimer.