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SEC Realignment And Schedule Options – Part One

Today might just be the day that Missouri makes its desire to join the SEC official.  Or not.  It seems we’ve been down this road a few dozen times with different schools and different conferences over the past 18 or so months.  Just when it appears the tumblers will click into place, something unexpected happens.

But assuming Mizzou really does tell the Big 12 that it’s out the door — if not this week, at some point — the SEC will have some serious decisions to make regarding the future layout of the league.  Adding schools creates new rivalries.  By default, expansion also kills off some old ones.  The key for a league as steeped in tradition as the SEC is to keep the majority of its most historic rivalries alive.

Over the next couple of posts, we’ll focus on the SEC’s division alignment options.  Auburn to the East.  Missouri to the East.  Mississippi State to the East.  Even the idea of shifting Alabama and Auburn to the East and moving Vandy to the West has been batted about by fans and media outlets.  Which option is best?  And by best, we mean the best for the most schools.

But before we get into that conversation, let’s look first at something just a tad less complicated — scheduling.

Most SEC coaches have said they want to sit tight with an eight-game conference slate each year.  League athletic directors made it clear just two weeks ago that that remains their goal, too, even if faced with a 13-team league next fall.  There are a couple of reasons the current format appeals to coaches and ADs.

First, in a league like the SEC, eight league games seem quite tough enough.  Nevermind the fact that the move from six to seven to eight league games per season actually benefited the SEC.  Pay no attention to the fact that the SEC’s reputation for toughness helped LSU reach the BCS Championship Game with two losses at the end of the 2007 season.  In the eyes of most coaches, adding a league game would make the odds longer for winning a national crown.  Even though adding conference games and a league championship game have led to more national titles in the last 20 years than were won by SEC schools in the 20 years prior to those additions.

Second, non-conference scheduling is easier with an eight-game conference plan.  Each AD knows that he’ll have four guaranteed home games per year against conference foes.  That allows each school to work with four open non-conference home slots each season.  But if the SEC were to go to a nine-game league slate, every other season a school would play four league home games and five league road games.  That means every other year, an AD would only have three slots to fill with non-conference opponents.  That means less money from the sale of tickets, merchandise, parking, concessions, etc.

Championships and cash.  Those are two pretty strong reasons to stick with the current eight-game format.  But despite those reasons, most BCS leagues appear to be moving in the direction of nine-game schedules anyway.  The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC are either currently playing nine-game conference schedules or are planning to do so in the coming years.  At, we believe the SEC will eventually have to do the same.

Let’s take a look at the current schedule rotation in the SEC.  It’s the 5-1-2 plan.  Each season, each SEC school plays its five division rivals, one permanent cross-divisional rival, and two rotating foes from the opposite division.  We’ll use Alabama as our example from here out.

Each season, Alabama plays Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss from within its own division.  The Crimson Tide also have an annual cross-divisional tussle with Tennessee.  That leaves the other East Division schools to rotate on and off Bama’s schedule as follows:


12-school league, 8-game schedule, current 5-1-2 format

2007 — Vanderbilt (A), Georgia (H)

2008 — Georgia (A), Kentucky (H)

2009 — Kentucky (A), South Carolina (H)

2010 — South Carolina (A), Florida (H)

2011 — Florida (A), Vanderbilt (H)


At that point, the rotation begins anew.  As you can see, in a five-season span, Alabama would face each non-permanent East Division foe twice.  That’s a pretty quick rotation that insures all of the league’s schools see each other quite often.  It’s a system that’s proven to work well.

Now let’s imagine an expanded 14-school SEC.

For the sake of argument let’s say Missouri joins the SEC’s East Division.  Let’s also put down Tennessee as Alabama’s permanent cross-divisional foe.  Since most SEC officials say they want to maintain an eight-game schedule, that’s what we’ll look at below.  In this scenario, the SEC’s 5-1-2 format would become a 6-1-1 format.

Our example, Alabama, would continue to play all of its division foes — something the NCAA rule book currently lists as a must if a league is to play a championship game (though the MAC was given a waiver).  That would mean games against Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M each and every year.  Tennessee would be an annual opponent as noted above.  That leaves six East Division foes to rotate through one at a time:


14-school league, 8-game schedule, 6-1-1 format

2012 — Vanderbilt (H)

2013 — Vanderbilt (A)

2014 — Georgia (H)

2015 — Georgia (A)

2016 — Kentucky (H)

2017 — Kentucky (A)

2018 — South Carolina (H)

2019 — South Carolina (A)

2020 — Florida (H)

2021 — Florida (A)

2022 — Missouri (H)

2023 — Missouri (A)


See the problem?  Instead of taking just five years to play each non-permanent, cross-divisional foe twice… it would take a full 12 years under a 6-1-1 plan.  In this example, Alabama wouldn’t see Vanderbilt between 2013 until 2024.  That’s a long time in between games.

Now, it’s possible that the SEC could break up those games and create a format such as this:


14-school league, 8-game schedule, 6-1-1 format, games broken up

2012 — Vanderbilt (H)

2013 — Georgia (A)

2014 — Kentucky (H)

2015 — South Carolina (A)

2016 — Florida (H)

2017 — Missouri (A)

2018 — Vanderbilt (A)

2019 — Georgia (H)

2020 — Kentucky (A)

2021 — South Carolina (H)

2022 — Florida (A)

2023 — Missouri (H)


Such a plan would enable schools to play more often (once every six seasons), but it would still leave 12 years in between campus visits.  Vanderbilt, for example, wouldn’t play in Tuscaloosa between 2012 and 2024.  That’s hardly an ideal scenario.

For that reason, we expect the SEC will follow the lead of the other major conferences and someday adopt a nine-game schedule using a 6-1-2 format.  With the current 12-team, 5-1-2 plan, each school faces its non-divisional foes twice in a five-year span.  In a 14-team, 6-1-1 plan, each school would play its non-divisional foes twice in a 12-year span.  A 6-1-2 plan, on the other hand, would allow each school to play its non-divisional foes twice every six years:


14-school league, 9-game schedule, 6-1-2 format

2012 — Vanderbilt (A), Georgia (H)

2013 — Georgia (A), Kentucky (H)

2014 — Kentucky (A), South Carolina (H)

2015 — South Carolina (A), Florida (H)

2016 — Florida (A), Missouri (H)

2017 — Missouri (A), Vanderbilt (H)


That’s clearly the best option for maintaining the SEC’s current close-knit feel.  If the league is going to continue to play a round-robin divisional schedule — and it is — eventually the SEC will have to move to a nine-game, 6-1-2 league format.  It’s hard to picture any other plan working long term.  Regardless of the current wishes of SEC coaches and athletic directors.


So those are the options for scheduling a new 14-team SEC.  What about aligning the new divisions?  What plan protects the greatest number of historic rivalries?  What plan keeps the most schools happy?

Up next in Part Two of this quick series, we’ll look at the SEC’s most storied rivalries… the rivalries most in need of protection.


(Sidenotes — We intentionally did not discuss a potential 6-2-1 format because that will appear in our third piece on divisional realignments.  Also, we did not mention the fact that the Big 12 plays nine conference games now because there’s no telling what that league will look like in 2012 and beyond.)



What are the chances of a 16 team, 4 division SEC with a north/south/east/west and a plus 1 conf championship format? For instance, east winner plays west winner. North winner plays south winner. Both winners play in ATL. Sounds good to me. Back door the whole playoff thing, satisfy regional hosting, and guarantee the winner a bcs champ spot. 16 is the number eventually. Mizzi, Tamu, WV, Clemson.

Bill C.
Bill C.

John Blair - Geographically it makes more sense to have USC in a division with Arkansas and Missouri? And you think anybody from UF or UGA is going to sign off on that game not being every year?
It makes the most sense to go to the 9 game schedule, its the only way. The schedules won't even get that much more difficult. Teams like UF, UGA, & USC who have a rival in the acc they can't drop will keep those games and schedule two cup cakes. Everyone else will play the 9 conference games and then schedule all cup cakes or maybe one team wake forest caliber if they feel like it. Take LSU for example who played WVU and Oregon this year. They would drop one or maybe both those type games, for 3 easy teams and then play the other 9 conference games.
The real trick is around the uneven distribution of conference home games. I find this less tricky for teams like, alabama, tennessee, auburn, ole miss, etc who don't have an out of conference rival they have to play. These teams on the years they have 4 home games could schedule up to 3 teams, easy or hard, at home if they want to. In contrast UF, UGA, and USC would really need to work with the conference to find a way to make sure their the seasons they only get 4 sec home games is the same season they play their acc rival at home. That way you get your 4 conference games at home, plus your big rival and then the two dopes you want to schedule on top of that.


No matter what they do, I hope they split up the cross-divisional series, on the rotating schedules, so that teams don't play twice in consecutive years. I'd rather see teams play more often, then play in consecutive years.

I really hope they go with the 6-1-2 format, but I also understand that it may not be possible. We have a lot of great rivalries in this conference, but sometimes I think we get too caught up in them. Personally, I don't much care how long two teams have been playing, because that has little bearing on the competitiveness of the rivalry. I also think it could be unfair to the newer members, which will likely comprise 1/3 of the SEC next season, since they gave up so much of their history and tradition to join in the SEC (not sure about SC here, but that certainly goes for Arkansas, Texas A&M and Missouri.) South Carolina and Arkansas have spent 20 years trying to build some SEC tradition already and it wouldn't be right if all that was just thrown out the door for the sake of keeping, say, the Alabama and Mississippi State rivalry going for another 100 years. There ought to be a limit on how many rivalries each team can protect. I think it would make things easier if there was one.

John Blair
John Blair

Here is what I would like to see: SEC North: Missouri, KY, AR, Vandy, TN, GA, SC. SEC south: AL, AU, Ole Miss, Miss State, LSU, TXAM, and FL. This would allow TN/AL to continue, AU/AL would not be threatened, and GA?AU would be the cross sectional rivalry. In affect you would be moving AR and FL. It would also make more geographic sense.


just another scheduling possibility of the 6-1-2 you could play ever school every 3 years if you don't make the H/A back to back

2012 @georgia/kentucky
2013 @usc/florida
2014 @kentucky/mizzou
2015 @kentucky/georgia
2016 @florida/usc
2017 @mizzou/Kentucky


What role will scheduling have in the SEC's vote to accept Mizzou? Ir seems that if too many feathers are ruffled, member school alums would put a lot of pressure on the schools that they support thereby possibly influencing member votes. In short, will the SEC commish have to satisfy all of the ADs (or Pres) with future scheduling before a vote takes place?


There is a LOT that administrators will have to consider as they work through the implications of expansion. At least we know we aren't destined to try and figure out who the legends are and who the leaders aren't!


I like your approach. However, since revenue is driving expansion and losing a home game every other year will significantly dent said revenue, it still seems like a rather tough sell to the respective school administrations. I wonder how the other conference officials were convinced of its value?


Good stuff, I've been waiting for your take on this.

FYI Big 12 also currently plays a 9 game schedule.

Adam Z
Adam Z

For selfish reasons only a nine game schedule is great because as a paying fan/booster--you are not stuck with paying for garbage non conference games that most FBS schools play. Again, just the selfish reasons only. There are compelling arguments for and against. But for the paying fan/customer--a 9 game schedule would be fantastic.


How about a balanced 10 game schedule, i.e. 6-2-2. This does the following:

1. Achieves the expansion goal of revenue increase - 10 game SEC schedule would yield the largest increase in TV contracts and/or greatest value for the new SEC network
2. Protects two cross divisional rivalries (Ala vs. UT and Auburn; Auburn vs Ala and LSU, etc.
3. Maintains the five year rotation versus other cross-divisional foes

It's a brutal schedule, but yet another justification for more than two schools in the BCS.


With a nine game conference schedule and the 5-4 home/away issue every other year, you will see ADs across the board be more reluctanct to play neutral field season openers with non-conference foes, such as the Chicken Classic (I believe that's #1 at the drive-thru) in Altanta each year. I know the Vols open next year with NC State there. It may not be attractive for schools to lose a non-conference home game going forward. Unless we go to a 13 game season, but that's just fantasy football there.


I really like the math.

Maybe they can do away w/ the permanent rival concept if your Bama/Aub to East pans out, and keep 8 game schedule.

Keep your three precious rivalries Ala/Ten, Aub/GA, & Aub/Ala intact as division games.

2 meetings in 7 years.

2012 - @Ala/Aub
2013 - @Aub/UGA
2014 - @UGA/Van
2015 - @Van/ USC
2016 - @USC/ UF
2017 - @UF/ Ten
2018 - @Ten/Ala

Plus with only 2 games against the other div the SECCG will have a better chance to be a fresh matchup for that season.

Onlyest hiccup is competive balance but since those the 3 rival games play each other anyway there will be losses regardless. I also see A&M and Ark becoming tougher with the merger which will strengthen the West.


the other option is 6-2-1. this means 10 year cycles but more rivalries are protected.



I think Mike Slive probably has someone doing the math on a 14-team plan for league presidents to peruse. He won't admit that -- even after the fact -- but I don't believe Slive would leave anything to chance. In fact, I don't think things with Missouri would have gotten this far if he didn't know he could get the votes to bring them in.

Thanks for reading,


My only guess is this:

I know at Alabama that a regular season ticket for an SEC game is higher than a ticket for a game against say Tulane. If you couple that with the fact that a SEC conference game has a much better chance of being televised nationally and would command more money than an SEC team against a non-.AQ then I think you may be making up the revenue loss there.



We've added a note at the bottom of the post. We did not mention the Big 12's current nine-game schedule because there's no telling how many teams will be in the Big 12 moving forward... and therefore there's no way to guess how many conference games they'll play. They went to a nine-game schedule this season as a 10-team league. If they become a 12-team league, it will be interesting to see if they follow the lead of the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC.

Thanks as always for reading the site,



I've now posted a note at the end of our story. We've discussed the 6-2-1 format on this site before, but we intentionally left it out of this piece because it will be mentioned in detail in Part Three as a potential solution for one realignment plan.

Thanks for reading the site,


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