MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Will Muschamp wants to avoid playing teams from the Football Championship Subdivision.
And not because the Gators lost to lower-division Georgia Southern last year.
Speaking at the Southeastern Conference’s annual spring meetings Tuesday, Muschamp said he would prefer a 12-game schedule that features eight league teams, in-state rival Florida State and three more teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We’re probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents,” Muschamp said, noting that his reasoning primarily has to do with getting his team in the best position to make the college football playoff that begins next season.
“And I think our fan base wants to see better opponents,” he added.
Muschamp’s boss and several other SEC coaches, though, don’t seem ready to close the door on lower-division teams.
“I understand what Will’s saying,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “In a perfect world, you play all D-I schools. But also you have to have 12 opponents.”
The topic was one of many addressed during the opening day of the SEC meetings, where talk focused on conference autonomy, potential rules changes and an early signing period for college football.
The meetings were the first chance for many coaches to weigh in on scheduling. The SEC decided last month to stick with its current format of eight league games and a permanent non-division rival.
The one change will affect nonconference scheduling. Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other Big Five conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12.
That tweak shouldn’t affect many programs. SEC schools routinely play at least one team from those conferences every season.
Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt do not play non-conference games against teams in the Big Five. Only Arkansas, Texas A&M and Kentucky did not play a non-conference game against a Big Five team last year.
So several of those nonconference games come against FCS teams. In fact, all 14 SEC teams play at least one lower-division team in 2014. And commissioner Mike Slive called it an “institutional decision,” adding that he has no plans to dictate scheduling.
“At this point, I believe it’s best for us to continue doing that,” Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. “I just find it hard to believe that one game like that … over the totality of the season would really hinder you if you perform well in those other games.”
Georgia Southern shocked Florida 26-20 in Gainesville last season, a humbling loss that guaranteed the Gators their first losing season since 1979.
And few have forgotten Appalachian State’s stunner at Michigan in 2007.
“I know we’re trying to stay away from them if physically possible,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
“But I think they have their place, especially if they’re a regional game. It gives an FCS (opponent) a chance to play what used to be a BCS team. I think that has a lot of merit. I was in the Big Ten when the Appalachian State thing happened and I think that makes college football pretty cool.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said scheduling FCS teams might not be avoidable.
Saban said Big Five teams aren’t chomping at the bit to play the SEC, which has put nine teams in the Bowl Championship Series national title game over the past eight years.
“I don’t know that we have a choice sometimes,” Saban said. “We can’t just call people up and say, ‘We want to have a game.’ It’s not like setting up a golf game. I call up three of my buddies and say you guys want to play and you play Sunday morning. Then everybody says, ‘Yeah, I can play.’ You ever try to schedule a game? Do you know what goes into that? It’s very difficult to do home-and-home with quality teams. To be honest with you, you almost have to buy games to get people to play you.
“Outside of the neutral-site game we do and our conference games, we struggle to schedule three other games.”
Florida plays lower-division Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22, but doesn’t have another FCS team on any schedule beyond 2014. Of course, that could change.
If not, it could be a rarity for the power league.
“We try not to do it now, but sometimes it’s all that we have left to schedule so we can get 12 games,” Saban said. “It’s not by choice that we want to do it.
“The first people that need to be taken into consideration here, who get no consideration, are the fans and the people who support the program.
“Quality games for them, so they want to come to the stadium and come to the game and support the program and make it exciting for the players. No, we do not want to play those types of teams. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
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