This week the SEC released their 2014 football schedule. Their season opener is a Thursday night matchup between Texas A&M and South Carolina. These are two very strong programs and I cannot think of a better way to kick off the 2014 college football season. Last year’s SEC opener between Vanderbilt and South Carolina was a smashing success, drawing a 3.0 national rating on ESPN with 4.1 million viewers watching. The South Carolina-Vanderbilt matchup was the highest rated Thursday night game on ESPN since 1998 and the most watched Thursday night game since 1994. The SEC is going with what works here and Thursday night games seem to be working very well for them. This time they are upping the ante from last year’s success with these two teams who will more than likely be a larger draw than last year’s VU-SC matchup. With perhaps the two biggest names this season in Johnny Manziel (if he can stay eligible) and Jadeveon Clowney, it’s a shame we will not see this matchup in 2013.
The other major game to note in this schedule also involves Texas A&M but this time it is their matchup against LSU on Thanksgiving Day. Some may argue that this is a bad move on the SEC’s part because of the competition with NFL games, but competing with the NFL is not what the SEC is trying to do here. This game is about preserving a Texas tradition of playing on Thanksgiving Day. The rivalry between the Aggies and Longhorns has traditionally been reserved for Thanksgiving Day but with conference realignment putting that rivalry on hold, what to do with this day has been a dilemma for both schools. Last year, Texas continued the Thanksgiving Day tradition by scheduling TCU in even numbered years and Texas Tech in odd numbered years. This essentially was equal to a slap in the face for Texas A&M as the Longhorns opted to play a fellow Texas school on that day rather than playing the Aggies. The 2014 season may allow for Texas A&M’s revenge. By scheduling LSU, the Aggies have one upped Texas. This will be a better matchup, bringing more media attention and thus more viewers than any other possible matchup for Texas on Thanksgiving Day. Texas A&M is making a stand to not be bullied out of this tradition. The series between LSU and A&M is nothing new. The Aggies and Tigers have played a total of 51 times dating back to 1899. This makes LSU the Aggies’ second most played SEC opponent after Arkansas, their former SWC conferencemate. The SEC is helping their newest member protect one of their traditions while at the same time highlighting one of the few traditional matchups Texas A&M has with an SEC team. The SEC is making a smart move here. While this move may be unpopular with the LSU fanbase, it will make the LSU-Texas A&M series (which isn’t as well known) into a prominent national matchup. This is the SEC protecting their investment by preventing the Aggies from being overshadowed by the Longhorns on Thanksgiving Day as well as giving the Aggies a second conference rivalry game which will make their SEC transition easier. The value of what the SEC gains from conference realignment doesn’t end with who they take, but how far they are willing to go to protect the profitability of their new members. SEC commissioner Michael Slive understands this and his genius is a big reason for the SEC’s current success.
Increased conference size means an end to some college traditions:
-For the first time since the division split, Tennessee & Florida won’t open conference play against each other in football
-In basketball, Kentucky-Tennessee, Duke-NC State, and Purdue-Indiana, will not play a home & home series. These games will be played only once this year, meaning that one of these teams will miss out on hosting their rival for the 2014 season.
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