You show Auburn as their own opponent in its 2nd division game. I think you meant to have ALA there instead.
With Texas A&M officially in the fold, the Southeastern Conference is preparing for a 13-team football season next fall. Someone, somewhere, is working on schedules for basketball, baseball, and all the lower-profile sports, too. We don’t envy any of those folks.
Below you’ll find a complicated breakdown of what a 13-team football schedule might look like. It’s a complicated read because it’s a complicated issue. It’s a terrible situation, to be honest with you.
We at MrSEC.com did not anticipate the SEC actually stopping at 13 and frankly we do not believe that the league expected to get stuck on unlucky 13 either. We were told by SEC sources from the get-go that 13 would automatically mean 14.
Sure, Mike Slive planned to be patient. Yes, the SEC wanted to avoid being the league that pulled the plug on the current conference set-up. And yes, the SEC also knew that if it raided — we’ll say — the ACC it could have led that league to grow to 16 teams in response… which would have set off a chain reaction… that could have then forced the SEC to expand to 16… something the league wants to avoid. Follow?
But just looking at how awkward a 13-team season might be, you can be certain this was not the SEC’s dream scenario.
Some will say that the Big Ten existed for two decades as an 11-school league and that the SEC can easily follow suit. Only that league did not have a championship game, a two-division set-up, or 13 paranoid fanbases who were just sure that their teams were somehow getting the short end of the stick from the league office on every issue.
No matter what the SEC does, there will be complaints. There will be outrage. There will be cries of favoritism. There will be conspiracy theories. Long-term, the SEC office might not care. But in the short-term, it figures to a be a very noisy year (or longer) at SEC Headquarters.
For an example of how a 13-team football schedule might work we turned our eyes to the Mid-American Conference. In 2007, Temple joined that league and pushed it into its current 13-school set-up. Next year — while the SEC is shifting to 13 teams — the MAC will add UMass and expand to 14 schools, ending its unbalanced system.
In the MAC, there are currently seven teams in the East Division and six in the West. More than likely, the SEC would feature seven teams in the West and six in the East.
As is the case in the SEC, MAC teams play an eight-game conference schedule. Obviously, the perfect scenario is for each school to play five division opponents and three games against foes from the other division. But in a 13-team league, three teams in the larger division must play six division games (and just two non-division contests) for the sake of math. There’s no way around that fact. It’s simple arithmetic.
So Job One for the SEC will be determining which four West Division foes would not play next year. That will also be Point Of Contention #1. Imagine the moans and groans that will arise if a school gets to avoid an Alabama, an LSU or an Arkansas in 2012.
Cecil Hurt of TideSports.com broke down a schedule using this format last week. In his scenario the Alabama-Ole Miss and the Auburn-Mississippi State games would be nuked from next year’s docket.
Naturally, all currently protected East-West rivalries would be kept on the schedule: Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-South Carolina, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-LSU, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.
(Sidenote — For those pulling their hair out over the possible end of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, don’t fret. Even if the SEC adds a 14th school at some point and Auburn moves to the East Division, the SEC would likely go to a nine-game conference schedule — over coaches’ objections — just like the Big Ten and Pac-12. That would allow each school to protect an extra cross-divisional rivalry each year. Georgia AD Greg McGarity spoke on that subject with The Macon Telegraph last weekend: “It’s critical that the Georgia-Auburn series stay intact in football. I can’t imagine that being displaced or being discontinued. I think your traditional rivalries are always going to be there. Tennessee-Alabama, count on that.”)
In Hurt’s plan, Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M would all play six division games and just two cross-divisional games. Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State — as well as all of the teams in the East Division — would play the usual five-three schedule.
This is where another issue arises. The NCAA rulebook states that in order to hold a championship game, a league must have two divisions of at least six teams each and each school must play a round-robin divisional schedule. The NCAA has allowed the MAC to skirt that bylaw and hold its title game despite the fact that four teams in one seven-team division do not actually play a full round-robin schedule. It’s likely the SEC would be given the same pass.
Ready for another issue? We reached out to the Mid-American Conference last week and spoke to a senior member of that conference’s management team. We were told that the issue of tie-breakers also becomes a trouble spot because not all MAC East Division teams (West Division teams in the SEC) play each other in a year.
Got a headache yet? You should try writing this.
Below is an example of how next season’s SEC schedule might look using Hurt’s plan — Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M playing six-game divisional schedules — as well as the cross-divisional rotation the SEC has employed the past 10 years. The table shows only the foes for each school. We do not even attempt to work all of this out on a week-to-week calendar. So don’t read it as Week One, Week Two, Week Three. We’ll leave that to some other poor stooge.
(Sidenote — The SEC has told some media members that the SEC’s cross-divisional rotation is spelled out in this year’s media guide, but the league chose to show what the cross-divisional rotation has been from 2002 through 2011. It did not include any hint of what the rotation would be moving forward, which would be a lot more useful in a conference media guide. Also, only two SEC schools — Georgia and Ole Miss — have posted their full future schedules online which is very much out of the ordinary. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that 90% of the league’s sources went quiet with regards to future SEC schedule rotation in the very same summer that the league added a new team… but there are likely a few X-Files-watchers out there who’ll find that to be a bit too coincidental.)
In case you’re wondering, the games coming off of next year’s anticipated 12-team schedule would be:
Overall that whole thing is a red and blue mess. And though we’ve triple-checked our typing, it’s possible we’ve typo’d somewhere in that table because it’s late, we’re tired, and it’s taken us three days to lay out all these complexities in what we hope is a format that a non PhD can follow.
Oh, and there’s one other issue we’ve yet to mention: Arkansas and Texas A&M will have to rush out and find one more non-conference opponent for themselves. Their annual battle in Arlington, Texas will become a conference game next year, opening up a non-conference slot on each team’s schedule. (For the record, we hope the Aggie-Razorback game remains in Arlington as a neutral site game for years to come. And with Jerry Jones kicking out major bucks to both schools, we expect that will be the case.)
The SEC continues to say that a 13-team schedule won’t be a problem. Former Mississippi State athletic director and current SEC consultant Larry Templeton says the league’s athletic directors will meet soon to hammer out these scheduling details.
“We’ll wait until we visit with athletic directors to talk about process and how they envision us handling the schedule,” Templeton told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “We’ve got some basic concepts and decisions to make that we haven’t been able to make until now. And now we need to do that.”
So throwing out fan discord, how should we all expect a 13-team schedule to work out? Here’s what our source in the MAC front office said:
“How well has the format worked for our league? It’s worked so well that we went out and added another football member beginning next year. This extends our footprint, however, (and) also balances our divisions!”
The exclamation point was his.
Suffice to say, a 13-school league is not ideal. For that reason, we expect the SEC hopes it can quickly find a 14th school just as the MAC has. In fact — as we’ve noted many times before — we believe the SEC had hoped a good 14th school would have presented itself already.