The whirlwind of news coming out of the annual SEC spring meetings has been overwhelming for everyone around the sport. Eight or nine-game schedules? Will there be an SEC East and SEC West? How will this impact Tennessee football?
After a year (although it felt longer) of debate among University representatives, University Presidents voted unanimously on an eight-game schedule with no divisions.
If the divisions were abolished in 2022, Tennessee and Georgia would have competed for the SEC Championship.
The group will reevaluate the schedule ahead of the 2025 season. The nine-game SEC season has received a lot of support from fans. The option, in theory, requires teams to have three permanent opponents.
Perhaps the largest debate of all is who the three teams would be for the Vols. Growing up, center Cooper Mays can’t imagine the three being anyone else other than Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“We play a gauntlet of a season, it’s no secret,” Mays said on the Vol Report. “We play probably one of the harder
schedules in the country, like year in, year out. But I couldn’t really imagine a season without playing Florida, Georgia and Alabama. So I don’t know. It probably will end up being helpful in the long run. But I don’t know if that will be the best thing to do.”
Mays brings up a good point that Nick Saban has also been adamant about. If the SEC moves to three permanent opponents for each team, it is only fair that the opponents are of equal difficulty for each team.
The changes will be implemented when Mays is out of school, but he has witnessed a lot of change in Knoxville during his career. Mays witnessed a winning season for Tennessee during his senior year of high school.
Soon after he arrived on campus, the winning stopped and Jeremy Pruitt was fired for cause. Now, the Vols are heading into 2023 off of their most successful season in recent memory behind head coach Josh Heupel.
“It’s pretty crazy, just really weird to me how fast, like everything’s changed,” Mays said. “I mean it seems like everything, kind of in life really recently, in these last few years, has changed a lot just in general in our country and everything.”
The College Football Playoff is changing as well, expanding to add more teams. Along with playing more SEC games and still requiring one power-five out of conference opponent, a 9-3 season has suddenly become the epitome of college football.
Mays recalls the COVID season when SEC schools played a 10-game schedule of all in-conference teams. There are no more opponents like UT Martin or Austin Peay. There are no more weeks where you may be able to recover.
The schedule is changing, making the toughest conference to play in even tougher. Mays won’t play in the new conditions, but he understands how much it will change the game of college football from how we know it.
“That was a crazy schedule to play all teams and then kind of that’s how we’re going to end up going anyway, because that’s so big,” Mays said. “I mean most of the weeks that you’re recovering, kind of like those teams you’re talking about like that aren’t the Alabama and Georgias of the world. Those teams that kind of you can get half off against. Those are no more, you know.”