In what has become an annual Gator Bait Magazine tradition, Editor Marty Cohen sat down with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley for an exclusive interview recently that touched a lot of bases, at home, in the SEC and on a national scope of college athletics. The second installment of this three-part series focuses on the influence of the TV networks on college football and the possibility of the SEC expanding its league schedule to nine games:
Both Jeremy Foley and Will Muschamp are not in favor of a ninth SEC game on the schedule (photo by Steve Johnson)
In the realm of TV, and the power the networks exert, we had this conversation last year, I’m still convinced the league is heading to nine conference games in football, do you see that as an inevitability?
“I don’t see it as inevitable. Obviously I see it as an option and it gets a lot of conversation and there are some schools that are very vocal about it. But at the end of the day, there are 14 schools in that room and eight of ‘em have to say they want to play nine games. The networks are not directing that, the Commissioner is not directing that – if that happens, it’s because schools in that room decide, ‘Hey this is the best for the league and this is best for us.’ So is it an option, is it a possibility? Of course it is. Is it inevitable, is that for sure going to happen? I’m not so sure, I’ll be honest with you. It’s just one guy’s opinion. Football scheduling is a very, very complicated subject and we’ve talked about it before. Every school had individual needs, concerns, thoughts, philosophies, goals, what have you, and to try and get everybody on the same page as it relates to nine games, I think that’s easier said than done.”
Wouldn’t the additional game alleviate some of the scheduling concerns, with the 6-1-1 format, and making sure Alabama plays Tennessee every year, all the things that get thrown into the complicated world of scheduling?
“That’s why it’s an option and it will get a thorough vetting. We may be sitting here a year from now, and it’s going to get decided within the next year because we all have to get our football schedules together for the future. I’ll be in a better position to say then, ‘It passed for these reasons, or it didn’t pass for these reasons.’ Certainly every point you just made is a reason for it. It brings another quality game to your stadium every other year, but you lose a home game every other year, that’s significant dollars, and that’s a reason not to do it. If you’re Florida you play eight tough games in the league, throw Florida State on top of that, and everybody wants you to be in that final game, that’s a bear. But we’re not afraid of competition either. So that’s the way you’ve got to listen to it. You’ve got to listen to what the (SEC) Commissioner says, listen to what ESPN says, listen to other people in the room.
“Obviously with football scheduling there are two controversial issues, the 6-1-1 (format, where each school plays the other six teams in its division, plus one permanent opponent from the other division and one rotating foe from the other side) and the nine-game schedule. Controversy isn’t the right word, but those are the issues, and they will get vetting here, the (school) presidents will get involved, because obviously they have an interest and want to be involved in the conversation, and I would say a year from now we’ll have a much better idea where we’re headed.”
It would seem from an outside perspective, that with all the dollars they’ve invested in the SEC, wouldn’t ESPN and CBS push for an additional league game to provide more high-end product?
“Well they paid an awful lot of money knowing the schedule was eight games. With as much respect as I have for ESPN and CBS and what they do, I’m not sure it’s their responsibility to dictate what we do. Scheduling is too important. Sure they have a vested interest, with more quality games, it’s better for them. But does that hurt our ability to get two teams in the Final Four, does it hurt our ability to even be in the Final Four, does it hurt our ability to get to Atlanta? I don’t know, I’m just saying, so that’s why you’ve got to thoroughly vetted. Would ESPN’s opinion be welcome and valid? Well you know what they’re going to say, so you listen to ‘em. What’s the Commissioner think we should do? I obviously have tremendous respect for Mike (Slive), he’s led us to a pretty good place.
“This is one of these conversations where you talk about it and talk about it, learn a little more, give a little more, take a little more and end up in a place that hopefully is best for every school in the league. It is NOT a decision, either one of those (issues), where you’re going to get a consensus, in my opinion. You may come out of the room saying it’s 14-0, because that’s what you want it to be, but it’s going to be hard to get 14-0 on both of those issues.”
You’re pro-active in everything you do here, but obviously a move to nine games seemingly would have to change the Georgia situation, relating to Jacksonville. Have you thought about the future of Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville?
“Not really. I don’t think nine games is necessarily a slam-dunk to change that. The city has been pretty good, well better than pretty good . . . it’s a pretty spectacular thing, and traditions come and go with expansion, we’ve seen that. Oklahoma-Nebraska, Texas A&M-Texas, but someone had a great quote up in Destin, I don’t remember who it was, ‘Just because it’s gone away, doesn’t mean it’s right, doesn’t mean that’s the best thing.’ I’d hate to sit here and say all of a sudden the Florida-Georgia game is going to go away (from Jacksonville). It’s been pretty special for a long, long time. I’ll tell you right now, whatever we come up with, we’ll fight like heck to make it work because I just think that’s what separates college football, I’ve said it before, the traditions that we have. So could it impact it? Yes.”
Could you see a situation where there’s a mix, some home-and-home and some games in Jacksonville?
“Potentially, You could see a lot of things going forward, but at the end of the day, the University of Florida needs to end up at a place that gives our fans a great opportunity and our football team an opportunity to be successful.”
If it would end up taking away a home football game every other year, obviously that’s impactful to UF financially and the athletic budget, but isn’t the impact on the city of Gainesville considered in the conversation? Losing a home football weekend would be a major blow to the area’s economy and while some folks may scoff at that as it relates to Gator sports, the university and the community have a pretty strong, deep relationship, not to mention that the Gainesville area supports every other athletic program on campus other than football.
“I’ve seen where some folks kind of discount that, I don’t think you can discount that. We are part of this community, there’s significant economic impact – that’s not an insignificant conversation. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it, at the end of the day, there’s going to be give and take all the way around. But we are an integral part of this community, obviously this community supports us, and when you take hotel rooms and restaurant opportunities out of the mix, that’s not insignificant. So yes, from one guy’s perspective . . . we let the people know two years ago we were only playing six home games this year because we’re going to Miami. We’ve had to plan for it the last four years, budget-wise, because instead of seven home games we only have six, so we’ve been squirreling away to make up for that, and I’m sure folks in this town have been doing that as well. If we didn’t think that was important, we wouldn’t have communicated it with everyone. We think it’s important, I can tell you right now thus university thinks that’s important. You have to be cognizant of what’s going on in this community. This community obviously supports this program very, very well.”
In Part III tomorrow, the discussion centers on football attendance, the future of the O’Connell Center and more. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out below.
We're offering Part II as a free read for everyone, but Parts I & III are for our subscribers only. You can get FREE subscription time from now until the 2013 season begins by signing up for an annual subscription HERE.
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