The Southeastern Conference is America’s roughest, toughest football league outside the NFL. Considering just what kind of pipeline the SEC has been for the NFL over the last 20 years, we’ll let you decide just how big the gap is between the two entities.
The conference has climbed to the top of the collegiate football heap by staying true to its traditions — more important to Southerners, it seems, than to anyone else from across the country — and by never backing down from a challenge.
While the Big XII immediately killed off the Oklahoma/Nebraska football rivalry upon formation, the SEC did its best when expanding from 10 to 12 teams and again from 12 to 14 teams to protect its oldest, fiercest rivalries. That’s the difference between good karma and bad. The Big XII eventually lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Oklahoma has had conversations with the Pac-12 and the SEC since 2010 alone.
For those not paying attention, other leagues might occasionally cast an eye toward an SEC school, but the schools in Mike Slive’s league have no interest in taking advantage of the conference’s lack of an exit fee to bolt. There’s money, tradition, and a good esprit de corps. Why leave?
In terms of taking on challenges, many have been self-created… and wisely s0. The belief that the SEC is a war zone filled with America’s top squads has been fostered by conference leaders making things tougher and tougher and tougher on themselves.
When coaches moaned of going from six conference games to seven in a season, the league’s athletic directors ignored them. When coaches bellyached about going from seven conference games to eight per season, again, the league’s ADs paid them no mind. And when coaches shrieked in terror at the thought of adding an SEC Championship Game on top of that eight-game league slate, the leaders of the league shrugged and went ahead and booked Legion Field (and eventually the Georgia Dome) for the first weekend in December anyway.
The eight-game schedule and the championship game first came into being in 1992. In the 21 seasons since, the SEC has won 11 national championships, including in ’92 with an undefeated Alabama team that proved the fraidy cats wrong right off the bat. In the 21 seasons before going to an eight-game schedule and the championship format, the league had won all of four national titles. Prior to Bama’s crown in ’92, the last SEC national champ was Georgia way back in 1980. Things changed when the league expanded, stayed true to its past, and made things more difficult for its teams.
Stated simply: The SEC doesn’t ignore its traditions and history and it consistently sets the bar on mettle-testing.
With that in mind, it’s time for the folks in Baton Rouge and Gainesville to pipe down. Especially those complainers at LSU.
Today, the SEC’s athletic directors will meet and Tiger AD Joe Alleva will once again claim that LSU faces a disadvantage because his school is forced to play Florida each and every season as its permanent opponent. That game, of course, has become one of the best on the SEC’s schedule and television execs have paid the league pretty darn well for that schedule over the past five years.
Florida officials aren’t thrilled with the prospect of having to play an East Division schedule and LSU each year, but the volume on Gainesville groaning hasn’t reached LSU proportions yet. That’s ironic considering Florida has more to complain about.
Let’s look at the records for the Tigers and Gators over the past decade:
|| Florida’s Record
|| LSU’s Record
Well, whaddya know? In five of the last 10 seasons, Florida has lost four or more football games. That’s happened just twice at LSU over the past decade. While the Gators have gone 98-33 since 2003, the Tigers have gone 107-24. If anyone’s got room to cry it would appear to be Florida.
When the SEC expanded in 1992 and implemented its eight-game conference schedule, league leaders decided to split things up based on tradition and parity, not geography. That’s why Vanderbilt is in the East and Auburn in the West despite the fact that Nashville is farther west than the Loveliest Village on the Plains.
Schedule-wise, the conference decided that the six traditional SEC powers should be separated — Alabama, Auburn and LSU on one side… Georgia, Florida and Tennessee on the other. On the schedule front, the same logic was followed when determining permanent partners.
Georgia and Auburn have the oldest rivalry in the Deep South. Both are traditional SEC powers. They were paired.
Alabama and Tennessee have — historically speaking — the most-important rivalry in the SEC. They have won more conference crowns than any other schools (UA with 23, UT with 13). They were paired.
Among the four traditional have-nots, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have one of the SEC’s oldest rivalries. They were paired.
The league’s two new schools at the time — Arkansas and South Carolina — were paired in an effort to quickly gin up a rivalry between the schools.
That left four schools without obvious dance partners: Florida, Kentucky, LSU, and Mississippi State.
Florida and LSU were among the league’s six all-time most successful programs. Kentucky and MSU, well, weren’t.
So Florida and LSU were paired in the interest of parity as were Kentucky and Mississippi State.
Now LSU and Florida — especially LSU — want to throw all of that logic out the window and do away with permanent rivals and the league’s tradition altogether. Historically, there have always been whiners when it comes to difficulties (see: SEC coaches every time a game is added to the league’s schedule). But those doing the crying have never been allowed to have their way. The good of the league has always come first.
So what’s best for the league? LSU playing Florida every season? Or LSU seeing Kentucky or Vanderbilt or Missouri more often? Florida seeing Ole Miss and Mississippi State and Texas A&M more often?
With the league adding two more teams to the mix last season, it’s a natural time to debate the topic. But tradition and toughness have always mattered in the SEC. Those two things should still matter going forward.
Permanent rivals should be maintained for the sake of history and parity. Florida and LSU should continue to face one another every season.
And if Gator and Tiger brass feel like crying about it, they should walk to their trophy cases and look at the two BCS trophies each has won in the past decade. For all their gnashing of teeth over unfair schedules, those schools seem to have done pretty darn well by ‘em.