Coaches vote to stay at 8 SEC games

DESTIN, Fla. -- The short-term answer for the SEC is to keep the number of conference games at eight, but coaches and athletic directors agreed Wednesday that a move to nine is probably inevitable.

The head coaches voted 13-1 to stay at eight conference games. The only coach voting for nine conference games was Alabama's Nick Saban.

Larry Templeton, who has headed up scheduling during the SEC's transition to 14 schools, said a rotation has been approved through 2026 that would include eight conference games with six divisional opponents, one permanent cross-divisional opponent and one rotating cross-divisional opponent.

That rotation will begin in 2014, but the question becomes: How long will that format remain in place?

"Personally, I think we'll end up moving to nine (conference) games eventually," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "My personal opinion (is) you create an SEC Network, at the end of the day, it's going to be driven by the dollar, and having those games is going to be important, and having enough quality games on television promoting a nine-game SEC regular season, in my opinion, will eventually happen."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said it's doubtful the 2014 schedule will be finalized this week at the SEC spring meetings. He's declined to weigh in on whether he's in favor of going to nine conference games. But he didn't hold back on the importance of SEC schools upgrading their nonconference schedules.

"I don't want us playing four games that mean less," Slive said. "I made that very clear."

Alabama's Bill Battle and Tennessee's Dave Hart were two athletic directors who said they anticipate the SEC going to nine conference games at some point.

But Battle said it's even more important that SEC schools play at least 10 "good" games.

"Our fan experience needs to improve, and the way to improve fan experience is to put on more good games," he said.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier suggested that the financial reward of playing nine conference games probably would be too lucrative for the league to pass up down the road. Still, he likes the idea of being able to schedule attractive nonconference games.

The Gamecocks are one of four teams in the SEC that play in-state rivalry games against nonconference foes every year. They face Clemson on an annual basis, while Florida plays Florida State, Georgia plays Georgia Tech and Kentucky plays Louisville.

"Anything can happen when television starts telling you what to do," Spurrier said. "But my thought is this: Would television people rather televise Texas-Texas A&M or Texas A&M-Kentucky? The conference games are supposed to be bigger. They're not necessarily bigger than some rivalry games. It's important to play your conference opponents. It's important to play other people out of conference, too."

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said creating another week of games where the SEC goes 7-7 against itself would not be good for the league.

"For Kentucky, I don't know if that's in the best interest for Kentucky to play a nine-game schedule and I think there are some opinions in the room that a lot of people don't believe it's in the best interest of their school to play name games," Stoops said. "... Well, if you do the math, 50 percent of our league just lost a game going into the year no matter what. So that's not good. For people like myself that are trying to build a team, maybe that's not in our best interest."

One of the chief debates regarding scheduling is whether to do away with permanent cross-divisional opponents. LSU has been leading the charge to do so. Its permanent opponent from the East every year is Florida.

LSU coach Les Miles has been pushing for a format that would include six divisional opponents and two rotating opponents from the other division.

"The hard thing is tradition, and the hard thing is financial considerations," Miles said. "But if you get back to how college football has changed, (Oklahoma) is not playing Nebraska. Nebraska is now in the Big Ten. Colorado is suddenly in the Pac-12. You're looking at a recent addition to our conference, Texas A&M, and they don't play Texas anymore.

"So tradition is giving way, hopefully, to a fairer and right way to pick a champion."

Spurrier quipped that all schedules aren't created equal.

"One thing I think we all have to realize is that nobody said it's going to always be fair," Spurrier said. "We all know last year that Georgia did not play the top three on the Western side -- Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. But a lot of people don't know that Alabama didn't play the top three on the Eastern side -- us, Florida or Georgia. Those are the two that won the division.

"Pepper Rogers one time said that a coach is as good as his players and his schedule."

ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff contributed to this report.