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The SEC scheduling just got that much more difficult for Mizzou

The SEC has approved a new 8-game conference schedule that eliminates the need for divisions. That is less than ideal news for teams in the SEC East.

Georgia v Missouri Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

Our long national nightmare is over. The SEC has finally come to a decision on how many conference games it will play during the 2024 football season.

That’s the headline. It’s not the end of this saga.

The SEC determined at this week’s spring meetings that its member schools will play an eight-game conference schedule beginning in 2024 when Texas and Oklahoma officially join the conference. Missouri was one of five programs to previously express publicly its support for a nine-game conference schedule.

There are legitimate arguments on either side. But this is not a column about the merits of an eight or a nine-game conference slate for Missouri. No, this is a column about what the elimination of the SEC’s divisions means for a school like Mizzou.

Oh, I didn’t mention that part?

Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. The SEC East and SEC West will no longer exist. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that the eight-game schedule in 2024 will be based on “fairness and balance” and that “traditional rivalries” will also be a major factor. The 2024 matchups will be released on SEC Network on June 14.

Missouri was previously scheduled to play its typical SEC East foes (Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee) and cross-divisional matchups against Arkansas and Ole Miss in 2024.

That schedule can now be thrown in the trash.

Instead, the Tigers will be handed a new schedule based on some combination of rivalries and “fairness.” Uh huh. Sure. Fairness.

My guess is the Tigers will end up with Oklahoma and Arkansas as their “natural rivals.” It wouldn’t surprise me if South Carolina is also added to that list, as well. That’s the starting point. From there, it could get ugly.

Instead of playing Vanderbilt every year, the Commodores will be on the schedule on a rotating basis. Missouri will see teams like Alabama, LSU Auburn and Ole Miss much more regularly. The gauntlet that is the SEC is about to become that much more difficult for Mizzou.

That’s not to suggest this is a bad move for the conference. The conference will now be able to better crown a true champion. Removing divisions helps to eliminate seasons in which the second best team in the country might reside in the SEC West, but that team might not even play for the conference title. With this new format, that team previously held out of the conference championship would (likely) be represented due to a more balanced schedule, and due to the elimination of the divisional format.

That is good for the SEC, and it’s good for college football, at large.

What’s good for the group, though, is not always helpful for a program like Missouri. Part of the Tigers’ good fortune in their early seasons in the SEC was their soft landing spot in the SEC East. It was considered to be the “weaker” of the two divisions. Georgia was “down.” Tennessee had Derek Dooley as its head coach. Kentucky was a bottom-feeder. Vanderbilt was solid, but, well, it was still Vandy.

Meanwhile, Alabama was a juggernaut, Mississippi State was rolling with Dak Prescott and Dan Mullen, Auburn was still in the ‘good’ Gene Chizik years, and even Texas A&M had Johnny Football.

That was a slightly different scene in the SEC West than it was in the SEC East.

I will go to my grave believing the 2013 Mizzou football team would have competed in any division or conference in America. The 2014 team, though? That group was certainly aided by its surroundings.

Competing in the SEC isn’t supposed to be easy, but it just got a bit tougher for Mizzou. Going to an 8-game schedule is a “win” for the Tigers, all things considered. I’m sure that will become a 9-game SEC slate sooner rather than later (because, well, money). Life for Eli Drinkwitz just got a bit more difficult, and it’s only going to get harder.

The level of competition is about to take yet another step forward for Mizzou football. We’ll find out in 2024 if Drink and the Tigers are ready.