Actually, the one fixed intra-divisional opponent and one rotating intra-divisional opponent plan would be the easiest to implement. All rivalties might be protected. But the intra-divisional rivalries most significant are, "Tennessee-Alabama" and "Auburn-Georgia." Texas A & M and Missouri currently play each other. LSU and Florida might consider swapping fixed intravisional opponents. I know that Mississippi State and Florida have a history. So does LSU-Kentucky. OIe Miss and Arkansas might swap fixed intra-divisional opponents. After all, Columbia, South Carolina is much further from Fayetteville than Nashville! But why would Ole Miss agree to the switch? My guess is that they wouldn't! I don't know what Carolina would say! Oxford is much closer to Columbia than Fayetteville! Of course, Columbia, Missouri is closer (287 miles) to Fayetteville than any school. South Carolina might relish playing Texas A & M as opposed to Arkansas. It's not much of a difference in distance. But these are details that the individual schools should work out. And I believe that they can. We have a wonderful set-up currently, ending with a championship game. Missouri and Texas A & M bring a lot of TV households to the SEC. We now can have the extra money without compromising a great thing!
The Southeastern Conference is facing a number of important questions as it prepares for the 2013 football season and beyond:
* How can the SEC protect the league’s oldest football rivalries and, in doing so, save what’s helped make the league so special — tradition?
* How can the SEC welcome in two new schools without completely destroying its current scheduling structure?
* Can the league accomplish its goals without eventually going to a nine-game conference slate?
The league’s coaches and athletic directors want no part of a nine-game schedule. Despite the fact that the league kicked things into hyperdrive when it expanded its conference schedule from six to seven to eight contests in the early 90s, the current batch of administrators are scared to death of a move to nine games. And regardless of the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that teams hosted as few as six home games per year in an 11-game season, most SEC power brokers claim they can’t afford to play fewer than seven home games per year in a 12-game environment. (Too bad those multi-billion dollar TV contracts don’t cover the costs of a single home game lost every other year, huh?)
We at MrSEC.com still feel a nine-game slate with a 6-1-2 format would protect rivalries and allow cross-divisional teams to face one another on a regular basis. But if the powers-that-be in college football move the bowl eligibility standard to seven wins, even we will throw in the towel on a nine-game slate. No way it would happen. SEC administrators in 2012 aren’t as daring, aren’t as brave, aren’t as visionary as those who made the league tougher and stronger twenty years ago.
If, then, an eight-game schedule is a must, the SEC must attempt to persuade the NCAA to abolish its current requirements for a conference championship game. At the moment, a league must be divided into two divisions of at last six teams each with each team in a division playing every other team in its division. Why the NCAA cares about such details is anyone’s guess, but for time being, that’s the rule that’s on the books.
Unfortunately, with an eight-game schedule and round-robin scheduling necessary, the SEC’s options are limited:
* Use a 6-1-1 format which would protect one permanent cross-divisional foe per team and set up a rotation in which one school would face the other six teams in the opposite division just twice every 12 years. (Currently teams face non-divisional teams twice every five years.)
* Use a 6-2 format which would lessen the timespan between cross-divisional matchups… but would also end three of the SEC’s oldest annual rivalries: Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt. (Sidenote: Just because your school might not have an important cross-divisional foe, that doesn’t mean the three games mentioned above don’t have history worth saving. Those games are darn important to the schools involved.)
SEC officials have made it clear that the league won’t be moving teams from division to division anytime soon. So you can hold off on the “move Auburn and Alabama to the East” talk. That’s not happening in the short-term. It’s also highly unlikely that games like Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee would be scheduled as non-conference games. (Frankly, that’s absurd.)
Which brings us back to the following point: The SEC must persuade the NCAA to dump its requirements for a championship game. If that were to happen, the SEC could go to a divisionless format that would allow the league to protect the conference’s oldest rivalries and keep a good rotation going for non-permanent foes.
Without divisions, the SEC could simply pair the teams with the two best SEC records in its championship game. Forget the problem of having the two best teams in one division. Without divisions, the two top teams in the league would always reach Atlanta.
Last week, we showed you how an 18-game schedule without divisions could be used to protect the oldest basketball rivalries in the SEC. It’s simple, it’s clean, and it works. And you wouldn’t need Pythagoras to help explain it to the folks at home. “In even numbered years each team’s tertiary rival would supplant its secondary rival, etc, etc.” Such mumbo wouldn’t be needed. Our plan would be as easy as 1-2-3. You can find that 4-1-8 basketball plan here.
Well, just as we set out to protect the oldest basketball rivalries with that format, we’ve done likewise with football’s most important games below. It’s a 6-2 plan (six permanent opponents, two rotating foes) without divisions. Teams would face their non-permanent opponents twice every seven years. Each team would have four home and four road games per season. And of the 23 SEC rivalries that have been played at least 60 times, 20 would be protected (and two of those lost aren’t currently being played as annual games anyway).
The set-up below — like the basketball plan mentioned above — would also help to create “local” rivalries for the SEC’s newest members. Now, by protecting each schools’ oldest rivalries, the schedule is set up in such a way that just about every school would have to play either an SEC newcomer or a team from far across the conference. Grab a spreadsheet, protect the oldest rivalries, and you’ll see what we mean. Scheduling is not as easy as most people think.
That said, we think the following 6-2 MrSEC.com Non-Divisional Plan would be both fair and rooted in tradition. We list each school’s permanent opponents from left to right. All games played more than 60 times are noted:
|School||Permanent Foe 1||Permanent Foe 2||Permanent Foe 3||Permanent Foe 4||Permanent Foe 5||Permanent Foe 6|
|Alabama||AU (76)||LSU (75)||MSU (96)||MU||UT (94)||VU (83)|
|Auburn||ALA (76)||UF (83)||UGA (115)||LSU||MSU (85)||USC|
|Florida||AU (83)||UGA (89)||UK (62)||MU||USC||VU|
|Georgia||ARK||AU (115)||UF (89)||UK (65)||USC (64)||UT|
|Kentucky||UF (62)||UGA (65)||MU||USC||UT (107)||VU (84)|
|LSU||ALA (75)||ARK||AU||MSU (105)||UM (99)||TAM|
|Miss. State||ALA (96)||ARK||AU (85)||LSU (105)||UM (108)||TAM|
|Ole Miss||ARK||LSU (99)||MSU (108)||MU||TAM||VU (86)|
|S. Carolina||AU||UF||UGA (64)||UK||UT||VU|
|Tennessee||ALA (94)||UGA||UK (107)||USC||TAM||VU (106)|
|Texas A&M||ARK (68)||LSU||MSU||MU||UM||UT|
|Vanderbilt||ALA (83)||UF||UK (84)||UM (86)||USC||UT (106)|
The only rivalries played 60+ times that would not be permanent matchups under this plan are: Georgia-Vanderbilt (73), Alabama-Georgia (65) and Ole Miss-Tennessee (64). Only the Georgia-Vandy game is currently an annual tilt.
And now, here’s what a 6-2, non-divisional plan would do for each program:
Alabama — The Tide would play five of its oldest rivals each year. Bama would also add newcomer Missouri as a regular foe.
Arkansas – The Razorbacks would protect their oldest rivalry (with Texas A&M) and draw neighboring LSU and Missouri on a yearly basis. The Hogs would also add Georgia as a regular opponent… which is a tad closer than South Carolina.
Auburn — The Tigers would play their four oldest rivals yearly. They would also add an annual game with South Carolina.
Florida – The Gators’ three oldest rivalries would be protected. UF would also add Missouri to its schedule.
Georgia — The Bulldogs would protect their two oldest rivalries plus two other games that have been played 60+ times. UGA would also add Arkansas as a regular opponent.
Kentucky — The Wildcats would protect four of their oldest rivalry games. UK would also add border state Missouri. (UK is one of only three schools whose permanent rivals under this plan would match those in the 2012 divisional plan.)
LSU — Three of the Tigers’ oldest rivalries would be saved and Texas A&M would be added to the mix as well. (Like Kentucky, LSU’s permanent schedule would remain the same under this format.)
Miss. State — The Bulldogs are a part of four of the SEC’s oldest rivalry games and all four would be protected. MSU would also add newcomer Texas A&M to its mix. (State is the third school — along with UK and LSU — that would face the same permanent opponents under our plan.)
Missouri — The Tigers would be given annual games against old Big 12 rival Texas A&M and border state schools Kentucky and Arkansas. The Tigers would also play Ole Miss on a yearly basis as that is a short distance from Southeast Missouri. In addition, MU would face Florida from across the league on an annual basis.
Ole Miss — Three of the Rebels’ oldest rivalries would be protected and UM would add both Missouri and Texas A&M to its yearly slate.
S. Carolina – The Gamecocks would protect their oldest rivalry (with Georgia) and continue to face all of their current division foes. Auburn would be added to USC’s schedule as a replacement for Arkansas.
Tennessee – The Volunteers would have three of their most-played games saved. They would lose Florida — which is basically a 20-year-old rivalry — but add newcomer Texas A&M as an annual foe.
Texas A&M – The Aggies would protect their oldest rivalry (with Arkansas) and they would gain games LSU and old Big 12 combatant Missouri. A&M would also add Tennessee to its schedule (which might give the Aggies a new orange-and-white “UT” to hate).
Vanderbilt – The Commodores would have four of their oldest rivalry games protected. After a lengthy layoff, Alabama would return to VU’s schedule as an yearly foe, too.
Is this plan perfect? No. But it’s probably as close as one can come to protecting the SEC’s most historically significant rivalries while also maintaining competitive balance and manageable travel.
If the SEC wants to make an eight-game schedule work, the 6-2 MrSEC.com Non-Divisional Plan is almost a must. Which means Mike Slive and his league leaders must work to convince the NCAA to drop its totally unnecessary scheduling requirements for conference championship games.
Any other plan would nix too much tradition… and tradition is something the SEC should fight at all costs to defend as it ushers in a new 14-school future.