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Schedule Debate: Even Recent History Shows You Can’t Predict Schools’ Future Success

gfx - by the numbersLast week, we called the chatter to dump permanent cross-division rivals in the SEC “shortsighted.”  Aside from Joe Alleva and Les Miles at LSU, most everyone else clamoring for a change in the SEC’s scheduling format has been doing so based on recent history and the belief that we all know who’s going to be good and who’s going to be bad from year to year.

Specifically, Tennessee — one of the 10 winningest programs in college football history — was targeted as being such a lame duck that it’s permanent rival, Alabama, is guaranteed a conference cakewalk each and every season moving forward.

We attempted to show everyone that league records have varied greatly over the last 20 years, but some still refused to buy into the logic we were selling.  So we’ve decided to dig a little deeper.  This time, we focused only on the last 10 SEC football seasons (which is really as far back as you need to go to realize none of us have any idea of who’ll rise or fall in a given season).  Here’s what we found:

 

*  Over the last 10 years (2003-2012), only four schools have finished 6-2 or better in league play at least half the time: LSU eight times, Georgia seven times, Alabama and Florida five times

*  Of those four schools, each finished with a losing conference mark at least once during the last 10 years

*  Not a single SEC school has finished with a winning conference record in each of the last 10 seasons

*  Not a single SEC school has finished with a losing conference record in each of the last 10 seasons

*  Over the last five years (2008-2012), not a single SEC school has finished 6-2 or better in all five years

*  Only one SEC school (Alabama) even finished with a winning record in each of the last five SEC seasons

*  Only one SEC school (Kentucky) finished with a losing record in each of the last five SEC seasons

*  LSU is the only SEC school to have finished 6-2 or better in each of the last three seasons

*  In the five years prior (2003-2007), only one SEC school (LSU) finished 6-2 or better in all five seasons

*  Only two SEC schools (LSU and Auburn) finished with winning records in all five of those seasons

*  Only one SEC school (Vanderbilt) finished with a losing record in all five of those seasons

 

Rise.  And fall.

Fall.  And rise.

If you need further proof, consider how many times over the last 10 years a school has seen its conference record jump or fall by two or more victories in back-to-back seasons:

 

Kentucky (2), South Carolina (3), Georgia (4), LSU (4), Mississippi State (4), Tennessee (4), Arkansas (5), Auburn (5), Vanderbilt (5), Alabama (6), Florida (6), Ole Miss (6)

 

Alabama and Florida — the two schools most often penciled in as consistent powers — have had more major gains and losses (along with Ole Miss) than any other SEC programs over the past decade.

Let’s give you yet another way of looking at things.  Over the past 10 years, here’s how many times a school finished with the same exact conference record in back-to-back years:

 

Alabama twice (8-0 in 2008 and 2009, 7-1 in 2011 and 2012)

Arkansas once (6-2 in 2010 and 2011)

Auburn never

Florida never

Georgia twice (6-2 in 2003, 2004 and 2005, 7-1 in 2011 and 2012)

Kentucky twice (1-7 in 2003 and 2004, 2-6 in 2010 and 2011)

LSU once (6-2 in 2006 and 2007)

Mississippi State once (1-7 in 2005 and 2006)

Ole Miss never

South Carolina twice (3-5 in 2006 and 2007, 6-2 in 2011 and 2012)

Tennessee once (1-7 in 2011 and 2012)

Vanderbilt once (1-7 in 2003 and 2004)

 

Out of 108 opportunities for schools to finish with the same record in back-to-back years, it happened just 13 times.  So you still think the team that’s good this year will be just as good next year?

There’s perception and there’s reality.

The perception is that certain SEC schools are always good and the schedule should be adjusted to reflect the current steady state of the league.

The reality is that there are many more ups and downs across the entire SEC than we choose to admit and it would be utter folly to attempt to reconfigure the schedule based on three-, five-, or even 10-year cycles.

The safest bet is to base the schedule — meaning permanent cross-division rivals — on college football history.  In this case, a 100-year sample is much more accurate than a short-term sample.  Of course, that’s exactly how the SEC office and the league presidents matched up the current cross-division rivals back in 1992.

The bottom line is that there aren’t going to be enough votes in Destin this week to do away with permanent rivalries.  Recent history dating back to 2008, 2003 or the early 199os shows why that’s a good and wise development.

LSU — and any schools backing the Tigers — will simply be jousting at windmills.

 


12 comments
DanHogan
DanHogan

I'd use this same logic in looking at non-conference scheduling.  Teams are looking to schedule opponents often a number of years in advance and have to guess just how good that team is going to be.  This is one of the reasons that scheduling arrangements are so appealing to me.  If there is some room to adjust opponents here and there during the summer, there's a better chance that lopsided games can be avoided. 

the_voice
the_voice

Once again, the facts you share don't support your conclusion. Of course it is impossible to predict who will be strong and weak at some particular point in the future. So why do we try to predict the future with permanent division "rivals"? (By the way, has Arkansas/South Carolina been a rivalry game? If so, why are the powers that be getting ready to end this annual game? I'm unfamiliar with any Gamecock or Razorback fans that will miss having this game stuffed down their throat every year. The majority of the other "rivalry" games face a similar lack of enthusiasm.)

The whole point of this silliness is preserving the Tennessee/Alabama game. Everybody else in the league is held hostage for this one game, creating a lopsided league schedule for all. Go to a 9 game schedule and play three cross-division games. Tennessee and Alabama will play 3 out of 7 years and the world won't end in the other four years. Tradition v. fairness? Sorry, but fairness should win every time! 

The folks who come across looking bad in this deal are the ones are those touting the status quo. They're willing to sacrifice the rest of their league brethren for their own selfish gain. Like so many politicians, they've turned the truth on its ear by calling those seeking a more balanced schedule self centered. Fascinating how so many are willing to buy that crock.

AndrewMartin
AndrewMartin

I don't understand why the SEC doesn't rotate opponents UNLESS both schools agree to be permanent cross division rivals? I don't see the benefit for all of the weak match ups just to get a couple of good ones? I don't see the equity in strength of schedule over time nor do I see the benefit for fans who want to see more teams on a consistent basis nationally. I disagree with this one John, but I respect your opinion.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@the_voice 

Again, there is ONE school that's upset about this.  Texas A&M and Carolina might feel the same way, but LSU is far and away the only school wetting its purple and gold pants over this issue.

Your post is a tad oversimplified.  Auburn and Georgia is every bit as important as Tennessee and Alabama.  You can bet that Arkansas and Missouri are happy to start a border war.  Ole Miss and Vandy have played 86 times and in every year since 1970.  While Kentucky and Mississippi State don't hate one another, you can bet they'd rather play one another than take on another big boy.  

As for fairness -- there is NO such thing.  Someone will always cry that a rotation gave them too many tough road games, or the other division is easier, or that they face too many teams coming off open dates.  Trust me, I get crying, whining, sniffing, whimpering emails from fans complaining about fairness and conspiracy theories by the hundreds.

Regarding the facts I wrote about not supporting my conclusion -- I stated that you can't flip the schedule every other year because teams rise and fall too quickly.  I then used data that showed that to be true.  However, over 100 years you can absolutely predict which schools will be good and which will be bad LONG-TERM.  The league wisely used 100 years of data in 1992 to align the divisions and pair up the rivals.  (Arkansas and Carolina were paired in an attempt to build some sort of rivalry between the league's two newest schools and in theory there was nothing wrong with that... it just didn't work.)  The majority of presidents now support keeping the rivalries alive.

I will be shocked if there is a reversal this week, but anything's possible. 

Thanks for reading,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@AndrewMartin 

LSU is the ONLY school crying!  Florida is OK with keeping LSU.  Arkansas and Missouri are happy.  Tennessee and Alabama are happy.  Georgia and Auburn are happy.  Kentucky and Mississippi State appear to be happy.  Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are happy.

Perhaps South Carolina and Texas A&M would like to dump the system, but even their presidents sent happy tweets back and forth after word leaked last year that they would be paired.

All this talk, all this moaning, all this crying... because LSU doesn't believe it should have to play one of the traditional powers in the conference every year... when Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia and Florida are fine with doing that very thing.  And all of those schools have had their ups and downs in the last 20 years.  Just like LSU which stunk for most of the 1990s.

Thanks for reading,

John


RussH
RussH

Yes... if LSU and Florida do not want to continue to play, and A&M/S.Carolina then let these 4 teams rotate.  If Arkansas and mizzou want to join the rotation we have 6 teams.

Bama/Tenn, Auburn/GA can continue thier games if they want....

I am not sure how this is such an earth shattering idea....

TheN8tureBoy
TheN8tureBoy

Part of why I come here is for the world-class insight (not sarcasm.) The number one reason why I come here is for how Mr. SEC puts the smackdown on dissent. I eat this crap UP!

the_voice
the_voice

@John at MrSEC @the_voiceYou're right about only one school being upset, and LSU's leadership comes off sounding like babies (as I alluded to).  More's the pity. 

To say scheduling a 2 division, 14 team football league for a 12 game football schedule will inevitably lead to an unfair result each year states the obvious. What CAN be done is fairness over the long haul. It CAN'T be done with yearly crossover opponents. Intentionally choosing to schedule unfairly doesn't lead to a more fair schedule.

I'm not willing to accept that ANY of the crossover games are "important". It implies that there are league games that are less important. The unimportant games are Directional State College (three states away) visiting Massively Talented Football Factory, who is buying what is essentially a preseason win. Saban's absolutely right about that.

I'll take a little more Alabama v. Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Missouri and a lot less Alabama v. Tennessee. I'll also take a little more Georgia v. Mississippi, Texas A&M, Louisiana State, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Alabama and a lot less of Georgia v. Auburn. I still think 3 games every 7 years is quite enough.

There are a number of reasons that the Big 10 massively over-earns relative to its pigskin performance. Visionary leadership is one. They have made mistakes in the past, but have learned from them and adjusted. Check out their current division alignment (moved from a geographically bizarre arrangement to eastern teams being in the east and western teams being in the west - unlike the SEC). Check out their league scheduling (moved from 8 league games to 9 - unlike the SEC). Check out their inter-divisional scheduling (moved from permanent crossover games for all to one crossover annual divisional rivalry game between two in-state rivals that are both pigskin pygmies; otherwise balanced rotational scheduling - Unlike the SEC). Again, the Big 10 is currently a lesser league on the field, but the SEC is playing catch up with them financially.

The SEC currently is the king of college football. Other leagues have been in the past. (I know that will be a shocking statement to those who aren't old enough to have graduated from college yet. As John suggests, check out the last 100 years of college football.) There does tend to be a reversion to the mean over time, although it is not nearly as certain as you indicate. The SEC can move towards long term domination of the sport with enlightened stewardship, or it can drift back to being "another one of the very good football leagues" as it was in the past. Doing the same old same old because it feels good doesn't constitute visionary leadership.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@TheN8tureBoy 

Please notice that the "smackdown" only comes when the dissent is particularly nasty.  (Or when we've covered an issue umpteen times already.)  

Plenty of people disagree with what's written on this site and they get no response from me.  But when someone says "your facts don't support your conclusion," well that's deserves an answer.

Just my take.

Again, thanks for reading the site. 

John

ErikaSmithJones
ErikaSmithJones

@John at MrSEC @AndrewMartin you can take your statistics and cram them down your throat. the only statistic that matters is that in 2012 lsu played usc and florida while alabama played mizzou and ut. this year lsu will play uga and florida while alabama plays kentucky and ut. it is so unfair as to taint the sec championship.

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