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The Battle Over SEC Scheduling Heats Up… But There’s No Such Thing As A “Fair” Schedule

gfx - honest opinionWell that didn’t take long.

Just a couple of days removed from the realization that the SEC will likely hold fast at 14 schools for the foreseeable future, the media is already peppering the league’s coaches with questions about the SEC’s scheduling policies.  And the coaches are playing along:


“Tennessee’s got Alabama, who’s been the best team in the last three or four years, and that’s not fair for Tennessee to have to play those guys every year.  But I don’t know.  Heck, that’s just sort of the way it is.  The coaches… we don’t make the rules.  We just try to coach our teams the best we can.

Nobody’s said it’s supposed to be fair anyway.  Have you heard any commissioner or anybody say it’s supposed to be fair?  They’ve make the recruiting rules more fair.  Right now, it seems like the same team gets all the top players every year in recruiting.  We just need to go player whoever they tell us to play and do the best we can, and things will work out hopefully.”

– Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (I can’t remember anyone from Tennessee complaining about their traditional game with Alabama, though it’s nice of Spurrier to try to speak for them.)


“I think we got a lot of people in the SEC office that are trying to decide what’s best for the league and I think they look at it from a thousand feet.  Looking at it strictly from our standpoint — and I have respect for what the league wants to do and how they’re gonna do it — is one basic theory that I have is every player should have the opportunity in his four-year career to play every SEC school.  And if we don’t at least have a two-team rotation with the other side that doesn’t really happen… I think it makes it more league-oriented when we play more cross-divisional games.”

– Nick Saban, Alabama (Saban sounded as if he’d rather have a nail driven through his head than have to take part in a spring conference call.  Click the top link, skip to Saban’s intro, and you’ll see what I mean.)


“It’s interesting to see how you would compare our schedule with others.  I wonder if there should be no permanent partners.  I wonder if a computer might pick a fair scheduling by random draw.  I wonder what other conferences require mandatory crossovers.  But the key piece for any conference, certainly, is to allow equal access to be champion.”

– Les Miles, LSU (A random draw from a computer?  This is why the “Mad Hatter” moniker won’t go away.)


“We’ve exhausted this pretty good here.  I know that the Florida/LSU game is a really good game for our conference.  I totally understand what Les is saying.  Those decisions are not made by the coaches.  We can voice our opinions and I understand the arguments on both sides of it.  At the end of the day we’ve got some people in our conference that want the permanent opponents, obviously Tennessee and Alabama and Auburn and Georgia.  We’re not for nine conference games ’cause obviously our in-state rival’s Florida State.  So at the end of the day that’s why you have a commissioner and he makes those decisions.”

– Will Muschamp, Florida (A politically savvy answer that really reveals little.)


“I’m a big believer of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.  The SEC has won seven straight national championships, but the world in 2014 changes a little bit (with the College Football Playoff).”

– Bret Bielema, Arkansas (His last point is better than his first point.)


“I think the eight games (format) creates the flexibility to allow all of us to manage our teams and build our programs the way we need to.  And if people want to go out and schedule really good games with a Pac-10 (Pac-12) opponent or a Big XII opponent or whatever that’s high profile, then that’s great, go do it.”

– James Franklin, Vanderbilt (Translation: “I’m building a program and the last thing I need is another SEC game on the schedule.”)


Here’s the bottom line: Most coaches want the easiest schedules they can possibly put together.  Some in BCS title contention know that they need to schedule big games, often at neutral sites.  But if most of these guys could line up 12 games against the Samfords and Jacksonville States of the world, they would.

Why fans aren’t outraged by having to pay outrageous sums of cash for tickets to such games is anyone’s guess… though falling attendance across the country suggest perhaps they’re getting a bit more tired of the pastry games than schools believe.

On this site, we wrote in January of 2012 that a divisionless set-up would aid the SEC on the scheduling front.  More rivalries could be protected, schools would see each other more often, and new rivalries could develop based on geography (when it comes to the SEC’s two newest members).

To do this, the SEC would need only get a waiver from the NCAA allowing it to send its two highest-rated teams to it’s championship game in Atlanta each year.  That would not be a problem.  The NCAA has granted waivers for championship game format exceptions in the past.

But let’s be honest for just a second here.  There is no such thing as a “fair” scheduling format.  If schedules are based off of a previous year’s records, there is no taking into account which teams lost the most stars to graduation or early exits or injuries.  Along the same line, there would be no way to predict what impact a Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel might have on a program’s fortunes.

If schedules are put together by a computer picking games at random — perhaps the dumbest thing that’s been suggested yet on this topic — schools could go ages without playing one another.  And you can be sure that the first coach to “randomly” draw Alabama, LSU and Florida in the same year would squawk.

No, unless every team in a conference plays every other team in a conference both home and away, the schedule isn’t going to be fair.  And even then you’d need to have 14 teams matching up with one another at the same time on the same day across several different planes of existence to ensure that one team isn’t playing Texas A&M before a Manziel ankle sprain while another plays A&M after such a sprain.  Sorry, if that’s a bit too “Doctor Who” for you, but you get the point.

With “fair” being an impossibility, the SEC should try to protect the one thing that has helped propel it to the top of the athletics mountain — tradition.  And that means keeping as many rivalry games intact as possible.



You may think Miles comments are the dumbest thing suggested yet, but that process could not work any worse than the one we have now.  It would eliminate someone who graduated from the University of Alabama and began their work career at that university prior to working for the SEC from creating the SEC football schedules.  Not that I don't trust those fine folks working for the SEC in Birmingham, but I really don't.


I'd rather see a nine game schedule and lose Tennessee-Oregon, Alabama-VT, Georgia-Clemson type games. Nine games would mean more Florida-A&M, Georgia-Alabama, Tennessee-LSU match ups. If nine games comes and kills FSU-Florida, Georgia-GT, and South Carolina-Clemson, count me out. Those games are as important as conference contests.


I agree that we should go to a division-less format if we're going to stick at 14.


@AllTideUp , Yeah, the 14 number is the problem.  Staying at 12 could have produced a clean 11 game SEC round robin plus one opening for out of conference rival or an elite out of conference matchup.  It does not get any stronger than that.  16 could allow either two divisions where they play 7 division/4 out of division SEC games a year plus that one out of conference rival/elite matchup scenario.  I like that one because everyone's plays each other home/home every four years.  It seems silly to go chasing strength of schedule elsewhere when it can be found in the conference.  Also, I understand why the coaches use hyperbole, but every SEC game is not a "war".  Each year, there ends up being at least 2-3 patsies in the SEC. 


Why is 14 such a problem?  You are talking about an 11 game SEC schedule, why not go to 10 with a 6-1-3 format? 6 division games, 1 permenant cross division rival, and 3 rotating cross division games.  In this format everyone would have 5 home and 5 away conference games, and teams would play every other team in the conference a minium of 2 times in a 4 year period.  This format would also allow for 2 out of conference rivals or 2 cupcakes.


@Speedy98 Sure, that could work as well.  Good solution.  You would just have to make sure the permanent cross rival was intriguing.  As it was/is, UK/Miss. State was not moving the needle for anyone, and LSU/Florida is not fair to either school.


Here's my beef with going to a nine game schedule. It's not likely to cure scheduling the patsies. Tennessee plays Oregon and three cup cakes this year. Alabama plays Va. Tech and three cupcakes. Florida plays Miami and Florida State and two cup cakes. South Carolina plays UNC and Clemson and two cupcakes. LSU plays TCU and three cupcakes. As a Vol fan, would I rather see Oregon or say... Ole Miss? We've played UCLA, Notre Dame, etc... in the past and I fear those are the games I'll lose. Florida's not likely to take on another SEC foe AND play Miami and FSU, one of those games would go and a patsy would be put in its place. We could discuss SOS...Tennessee plays Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, of the remaining SEC teams which one should we schedule that would make out SOS better than Oregon? As was stated in the piece, the coaches would schedule as many cupcakes as possible, so I'm not confident they'd want to keep scheduling OOC games with tough opponents. JMO


@vol66 I was thinking the same thing this morning.  I'm afraid we'll lose the interesting non-conference games if we go to 9 SEC games.  We at Arkansas look forward to renewing a series with the Longhorns in the future, but if we went to 9 SEC games, I'm afraid those types of matchups will only happen in bowl games.  


  1. [...] Barnhart isn’t the only AD in the league to make comments like this.  Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin has said that his school needs pastries, too (though we send kudos to MSU for taking on Oklahoma State this year).  Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has said he’s against a nine-game schedule, too. [...]

  2. […] how about someone just program a computer to toss out the schedules at random (as Les Miles has suggested)?  Sure.  And you’ll hear nary a peep from fans or columnists when Alabama draws from […]

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