When the SEC announced its members would only play 10 conference games for football this fall, if they play at all, the question became: how will Vanderbilt and Tennessee fill out their schedules? Currently, the Tennessee college football schedule only consists of eight SEC games.
The answer may lie with the Commodores’ and Volunteers’ “non-permanent” opponents from the opposite division. Both teams have those opponents on their conference schedules for the next two seasons.
How the Tennessee football schedule normally works
Understanding why simply adding the two “non-permanent” opponents makes sense, requires an explanation of how SEC’s intraconference scheduling for football normally works. The SEC splits its 14 teams into an east and west division.
Both Tennessee and Vanderbilt are in the east division. Also in that division are:
- South Carolina
In normal circumstances, the Commodores and Volunteers play every other team in the east division, alternating home-and-away on an annual basis. That’s why Tennessee and Vanderbilt play each other each season.
Then, each team fills out its normal slate of eight SEC games with two opponents from the other division. One of those opponents is “permanent,” meaning they play each other every season.
The other inter-division game is a “non-permanent” opponent. So in every six-year cycle, the Commodores and Volunteers end up playing all of the SEC west teams once.
Through at least 2025, Tennessee’s permanent opponent is Alabama, while Vanderbilt gets Mississippi. The Commodores’ schedule this year has Texas A&M as the non-permanent opponent. The Volunteers face Arkansas in that game.
Both schools have played four of the six remaining SEC west teams within the past five years, so the most logical course of action is to just bump up the next two non-permanent opponents Tennessee and Vanderbilt have on their schedules for 2021 and 2022. It may not be that easy, however.
Competitive balance a concern for schedule makers
For the Commodores, that would mean playing Mississippi State at home and Auburn on the road. The Volunteers would get Mississippi at home and LSU in Baton Rouge, theoretically.
The other consideration for SEC officials is the quality of the competition, however. If they use the 2019 conference and overall records as a measuring stick, neither Mississippi nor LSU would be a good match for Tennessee.
The Volunteers finished 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, securing third place in the east. Mississippi went 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the SEC, and placed sixth in the west. LSU won the west, going 15-0, 8-0.
Better fits for Tennessee using this measurement alone would be Auburn (9-4, 5-3) and Texas A&M (8-5, 4-4). The Volunteers played the Tigers in 2018, however, and the Aggies in 2016.
SEC officials are currently trying to balance preserving the rotation and maintaining a desirable strength of schedule. They could release a new schedule as early as next week.
For sportsbook operators, the wait can be excruciating. Yet, there is still cause for reservation. At this point, even a revised schedule is still just a tentative plan.
Why books and bettors may still not want to go “all in” in 2020
The possibility remains that the Commodores and Volunteers could play zero football games this fall. It’s all dependent on not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but local governments as well.
For that reason, sportsbooks may be hesitant to create a lot of markets on these games. That’s especially true because Tennessee bans prop wagers on college sports.
Additionally, it may not make sense for bettors to stake large wagers on these games, even if the season does move forward. The potential for positive coronavirus tests could force further changes in the schedule.
Even if the conference doesn’t have to reschedule games, a key player or two missing games could drastically affect lines as well. It’s possible that announcements on such players could come just a day or two before games.
If there is SEC football this fall, it will be a very unique betting product. Right now, bettors and sportsbooks are waiting to see what will happen with Vanderbilt’s and Tennessee’s “mystery” opponents.