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Shortsighted Pundits Suggest The SEC Dump Permanent Rivals

gfx - honest opinionWith the SEC spring meetings set for next week in Destin, Florida, a number of football writers from across the country have decided it’s time to weigh in on the league’s scheduling plans.  It’s clear to at least three of them that Les Miles and LSU are correct — it’s time to dump permanent cross-divisional rivals in the Southeastern Conference.

Readers of this site know that we feel the SEC’s history is what makes it special.  And history is the main reason the permanent rivals still exist.  Alabama/Tennessee is traditionally the SEC’s biggest game.  Those two schools have won more league titles than any other.  More than Florida.  More than LSU.  More than Georgia and Auburn.

Auburn/Georgia — the deep South’s oldest rivalry — happens to be the other game the league’s leaders have deemed worthy of protection.  Those leaders have taken a big-picture approach.  The columnists quoted below do not.

Matt Hayes of The Sporting News writes:

 

“Meanwhile, Alabama has played Florida and Georgia eight times — the lowest of any West Division team.  Alabama’s argument is it plays Tennessee, which started the BCS era with a national title but has recently fallen on hard times.

The reality is Florida and LSU are better equipped than Tennessee — now and for the foreseeable future — to win big in the SEC.  So where does that leave permanent rotations?”

 

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated goes down the same path:

 

“Alabama-Tennessee has always been a streaky rivalry, but the utter humiliation the Tide have laid on the Vols in most of the past six season suggests this isn’t much of a rivalry at all.  Since its win streak began in 2007, Alabama has beaten Tennessee by an average of 23.2 points.”

 

Today, Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News jumped in:

 

“With all due respect to UT AD Dave Hart, who’s made it part of his mission to preserve that game on an annual basis, the Tide vs. the Vols is no longer a rivalry.  It’s a guarantee game.

When they play in Knoxville, Tennessee gets a crowd and a bruise, and Alabama gets a win.  When they play in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee gets nothing but a bruise, and Alabama gets another win.

Meanwhile, while Alabama’s using its permanent cross-division game as a breather to prepare for LSU, LSU has to go through Florida before it even gets to Alabama.  Auburn has to prepare for Alabama by climbing into the ring with Georgia.”

 

So the basic reason for dumping permanent cross-divisonal rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia is: Tennessee sucks and always will.

This is what happens when we in the media spend too much of our time writing and reading tweets.  We can’t see anything but the now.  Anything past the 140th character qualifies as the distant future.  And history?  Well, Mandel did go back six whole seasons in discussing the Vols and Tide rivalry.

Shortsightedness is not an asset when it comes to running a conference.

And just as Mike Slive and Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin referred to Texas A&M’s decision to join the SEC as a “hundred-year decision,” league scheduling should take into account the fact that the teams on top today might not be the ones on top tomorrow.  Scheduling should be based on historical strength, not current power.

By way of an example, let’s imagine the SEC’s stewards were planning to create a new schedule rotation back in 2002.  They would have had a full decade’s worth of records from a 12-team SEC with which to work.  Below are those SEC records from 1992 through 2001:

 

SEC East 1992-2001

  Rank   School   SEC Record
  1   Florida   69-11
  2   Tennessee   63-16-1
  3   Georgia   44-35-1
  4   S. Carolina   28-51-1
  5   Kentucky   22-58
  6   Vanderbilt   10-70

 

SEC West 1992-2001

  Rank   School   SEC Record
  1   Alabama   52-27-1
  2   Auburn   45-33-2
  3   Miss. State   37-42-1
  4   LSU   36-43-1
  5   Arkansas   35-43-2
  6   Ole Miss   34-46

 

Interesting.  One must wonder whether or not Hayes — if he’d looked at those numbers in 2001 — would have dared to write that Tennessee wouldn’t be equipped to deal with Florida and LSU moving forward.  We’ll guess not.

In 2001, Tennessee’s upset loss to LSU in the SEC title game cost the Vols a second trip to the BCS Championship Game within a four-year span.  UT had just beaten Alabama for a seventh consecutive time.  (If Mandel thinks six results are enough to destroy SEC history, what would he have said based on seven?)  Phillip Fulmer was still bringing in top recruiting classes.

So could anyone have predicted the Vols’ nosedive?  Sorry.  Niether Hayes, Mandel nor Scarbinsky coulda/woulda been able to foresee that one.

2001 also marked LSU’s first trip to a major bowl game since 1986.  Matter of fact, the Tigers didn’t finish in the national top 10 from 1988 through 2001.  They finished unranked in nine of the 11 seasons between 1989 and 1999.

Does anyone remember a push during the 90s calling for LSU to be dumped from Florida’s schedule?  Tennessee was playing Alabama year-in and year-out, after all, and the Tide were the best in the West.  Meanwhile the Gators were enjoying a breather, a guarantee game with the Tigers.

Thankfully, during the 90s, Tennessee and Alabama didn’t whine about having to play each year.

Looking at the SEC records above, would anyone have predicted South Carolina’s rapid turnaround in the 2000s?

And, if schedules had been re-worked in ’02 based on the previous decade’s records, do you believe Florida/Mississippi State would have turned into the top television draw that Florida/LSU has become?

The point is, things change.  They change quickly.  They change without warning.

Who in 1995 would have predicted that some guy named Nick Saban would someday arrive in Baton Rouge and turn LSU into a national power?

Who would have predicted that an ex-Florida State offensive coordinator named Mark Richt would do better at Georgia than Jim Donnan?

Who could have foreseen stable, dominant Florida yo-yoing from the heights of BCS titles to the lows of five- and six-loss seasons under three coaches not named Steve Spurrier between 2002 and 2012?

Who would have predicted Spurrier would land at South Carolina and then have so much more success than Lou Holtz had had in Columbia?

Who would have guessed that Bobby Petrino could turn Arkansas into a national power before wiping out his motorcycle and his SEC coaching career?

Get the message?

Get the right coach and any school can win.  Get the wrong coach or get on the wrong side of the NCAA and any school can lose.  The idea that the past 15 years, 10 years, or — Lord, help us — six years should be used to plan a league’s schedule is the apex of silliness and shortsightedness.  It’s Twitter-level thinking.  “Hey, I just stubbed my toe.  Might as well amputate because as far as I can tell right now, it’ll always hurt.”

When the SEC expanded in 1992, Roy Kramer and crew wisely chose to look back over the entire history of the conference.  Three traditional powers were sent to the West (Alabama, Auburn and LSU).  Three traditional powers were sent to the East (Florida, Georgia and Tennessee).  Those teams were lined up as permanent cross-divisional foes for the sake of parity and preserving historical rivalries.  It was wise then.  It’s still wise now.

And for all the writers stamping their feet over this debate, LSU is really the only school publicly banging the drum to nix permanent rivalries.  Florida officials have said that they get what Miles and AD Joe Alleva are saying, but they’ve not said — publicly, at least — that they want the game killed.

You can be sure that Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State would prefer to keep playing one another.  UK/MSU isn’t a heated rivalry, but those schools would rather play one another than one of the traditional “big six.”

Teams rise and fall.  The best programs eventually rise after they fall.  The worst programs tend to fall after they rise.

No one knows which SEC school will hire the next Nick Saban.  No one knows which SEC school will be the next to stumble over an NCAA tripwire.

For that reason, a nine-game schedule preserving permanent cross-divisional rivalries is the wisest, simplest plan heading into the future.  Certainly there will be some discussion of permanent rivals in Destin — LSU’s Alleva and Miles will see to that.  As Slive is fond of saying, “The First Amendment is alive and well” in the SEC.

But to quote a movie line, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  In this case, LSU and the three columnists backing their power play make up the few.

 


29 comments
AndrewMartin
AndrewMartin

I Amy be the minority and I usually agree with John, but I don't want permanent cross division rivals. I think the league is best suited getting all teams in front of each other more often, creating more equitable (not perfect) schedules as possible, and creating more match ups of true national interest for TV purposes. In my opinion, rotating cross division foes is best suited to achieve these goals. Permanent foes also forces bad matchups.on some schools permanently which frankly is't right.

TSampGator
TSampGator

@MrSEC UF needs to play more. They are the closest school to us and we played over 80 times. That was tradition

TSampGator
TSampGator

@MrSEC. And in the State 90s others schools traditions mattered with 2 fixed opponents. Like and .

buddha22
buddha22

This is pretty simple, put your money where your mouth is...Permit one cross division rival per school but each side can decide to end it at will after the next 2 year (home/home) is completed. This permits those must have, line in the sand, great rivalries to continue under mutual agreement, permit those not feeling so great about their rivalry partners a way out and open the door for new rivalries to develop. The only catch: has to be consensual, any school can end it per above and for fairness and scheduling by the league. You can have zero or one cross division rival only.

I guess we would find out quickly just how revered those rivalries really are and how they stand up under the highly competitive glare of SEC football. Actually may help to develop those marquee games that do not come around in a 6-1-1 very often, like UGA-Bama, well, that is if they give up homecoming every year vs the Vols.

Really, it is simple.

Mr_Travis_McGee
Mr_Travis_McGee

I have yet to find a single Florida fan that thinks LSU is a rival,, nor KSU fan that thinks Florida is either.

Shouldn't that count for something?

the_voice
the_voice

Honest Opinion reveals much truth in the factual analysis, but proves the point of the inherent unfairness of permanent opponents. The amount of money riding upon a fair schedule demands as fair a schedule as is possible; which is a regular rotation of cross division opponents.

Plan B - If the 11th commandment said something about the Alabama/Tennessee, Vanderbilt/Mississippi, & Georgia/Auburn games being played annually until kingdom comes, then either stick those teams in the same division or eliminate cross division games from counting towards division championships (except as a tiebreaker between three or more teams). 

Tradition can be both good and bad. We certainly don't want to see the tradition of 3 or 4 cupcakes per college football powerhouse's annual schedule maintained. The majority of the permanent opponent games add nothing special to schedule. Let's allow the SEC to grow past this silly, emotional issue.

Eric B
Eric B

Would it be so terrible to keep the 3 historical cross-division rivalries (UT-UA, UGA-AU, and VU-Ole Miss) and scrap the others.  It would still be unblanced, but everyone would get what they want.  If they stuck with 8, those six teams would go 6-1-1 and the other 8 would go 6-2, or if the go nine games then it would be 6-1-2 and 6-3.  I know it's tricky, but they have guys who get paid a lot of money to figure out how to make that work.  I know it's still an inequitable solution, but any more than the current system?

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

What I don't fully grasp is why does LSU and Miles believe that having two rotating opponents would balance out the schedule. There will still be years where one team will draw two of the worst teams from the other division and get two easier games. Then there will be years when a team draw the two top teams from the other division. Unless you put together a scheduling plan that does not have a decade of pre-scheduled games, and set the cross division games a the year before, you cannot create a balanced schedule, and even then it would be tricky.

Plus anyone thinks that TN will be down for long is unrealistic. UT is one of the 10 winningest programs in college football. We are one of the few schools never to have an 8 loss season, if not the only program left. These last three years was the worst stretch in our 100+ year history. Statistically and hopefully we have hit rock bottom and the only way is up from here.  Is it tougher to win at TN than some programs? Yes, we don't have the same built in talent pipeline that some schools enjoy, but that has not stopped us from being one of the top programs in college football history. We fans have been humbled, but we have never lost our taste for success.

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

I agree with what your saying here. When I read the article from Hayes I just thought it was a national columnist not getting it, the Scarbinksy article  however was very dissapointing. I thought he would know better. This latest LSU whine fest on the matter is just out of hand at this point. The truth is as I look over the recent history, nothing changes for LSU's post season if you used only the divisional rankings. They have lost to Western opponents, namely Bama in each of the years that they did not get to, or lost in, the BCS NC. If they just beat Alabama when they needed to, it would not be an issue. And was it the SEC schedule that caused them to have to face Bama again in New Orleans and get drubbed? When South Carolina complains, I get it, they are beating Georgia and getting hosed cause of who they play in the west. But thats not whats happening to LSU.

yerboyfloyd
yerboyfloyd

I'm sure you've commented on it, but what scheduling format could best preserve rivalries and help mitigate the kind of schedule inadequacies LSU is complaining about?

I really liked the idea someone floated a few weeks ago (divisionless, I believe) where each team had 4 or 5 permanent rivals while rotating the 3 or 4 games.   It preserved the rivalries and helped mitigate the strength of schedules.    It would be nice to see the SEC take the lead on this as they did with the divisional set up years ago.  

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@buddha22 

You must not have read the piece.  Tennessee has lost six in a row to Alabama.  They'd won seven in row before that.  

Thanks for reading,

John

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

I am not sure how a recent winning streak amounts to homecoming. Are LSU fans that scared they will never again see the promise land of an NC. That the further removed from Saban's reign they go the further from a chance at glory they go? TN will pick itself back up, stop sniffling on the matter. Florida fans did not do this when Bama was down and TN was winning the NC.

ConnGator
ConnGator

@Mr_Travis_McGee As a Florida fan, I think LSU is a rival and is a great game.  However, there is no denying that Auburn was our first choice back in '92 but UGA had a slightly longer rivalry with Auburn so they got them and LSU was our second choice.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@Mr_Travis_McGee 

Interestingly, Florida's administration doesn't seem to have a big problem with playing LSU.  Publicly, they've stated that they see LSU's point, but their leaders certainly aren't whining about it or pushing for change.

Also, if two teams have played 42 years in a row, I'd consider that a rivalry. 

Thanks for reading,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@the_voice 

Eleven to 13 schools in the league believe the current set-up IS fair.  LSU is the only school that doesn't.  There is no such thing as a fair schedule.  The East or West will be up one year and down the next.  Someone will travel to a school while another team plays that same school at home.  A rotation could still leave a school playing two great teams from the other division while another team gets the teams at the cellar.

Thanks for reading the site,

John

Marchrevin
Marchrevin

LSU vs. Florida is NOT a traditional rivalry. The fact is that Alabama, year in and year out, has an easier path to the SEC and BCS titles because LSU play

Florida whie Bama plays Tennessee. Tradition is fine but fairness and competitive balance is more important. If cross division rivals are soimportant to the Sec make Kentucky our permanent cross division rival.. Florida was never our rival.

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

Well if you eliminate Florida LSU you can likely take money off the ESPN/CBS contracts.  But beyond that, making the above group into one division does what exactly? Your LSU cries will still be heard as it means they would likely have to go into a division with Florida or the like. There is no fair. Things are never going to be permanently fair. Cross division games are not LSU's problems. as I said before they are losing games within their division and thats their issue. Your Plan B up above would do nothing to help LSU over the recent spate they are complaining about. It would however help South Carolina, but South Carolina's permanent opponent is not an issue for them, they don't like their recent rotating opponents.  

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@Eric B 

But the other eight teams don't want to scrap permanent foes.  LSU does.  Perhaps two others do.  That's it.  Eleven to 13 schools don't want change.

Thanks for reading the site,

John

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

Refer to the article above. Miles and the pundits are living in the right now and only now world. They have not farsight whatsoever. for Miles its understandable, he needs to win today, for everyone else I cannot understand the logic. Oregon, Arkansas, and West Virginia are all programs that do not have built in talent pipelines yet were successful, even if short term thus far in Arkansas's case. TN has never needed the same pipeline as Florida or Southern Cal, its name brand allows it to recruit at a high level when the coach is right.

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

My idea is to just go to an NFL model for the rotating games. The top team in the East and West face each other the next year, aka the SEC champ game is a rematch the following year and you go down the line from that. 2v2, 3v3, and so forth. Two issues emerge from this however that have to get resolved.

1) Something it would result it teams playing twice if the match pair two permanent rivals. in that case you alternate the ranking just slightly such as two 2v3 matches in place of the 2v2 matches.

2) Teams will complain about nto being able to even out Home and Away games. The B1G solved this issue for us. On odd numbered years the East would be Home, on even numbered years the West teams would be home. That way each two year rotation balances out.

With this the top teams in the league will get a tough match up for the following year, supposedly. The truth is that in any given year teams rise and  fall so quickly that nothing is certain, however the method of choosing teams becomes much more transparant. 

buddha22
buddha22

I read it John. 6 years is a long, long time in the life of a football coach, players, students and especially recuits, talking heads/media and what fans want to watch. Perception quickly becomes reality and I don't believe Tenn/Bama holds any major national cache right now. UGA/Bama would, UF/LSU absolutely does and speaking to the mercurial rise and the right now element of sports, A&M/SC or A&M/UGA does. What happened 7 years ago??? Not so much. Want to capture that momentum, give them the ability to create those cross divisional match-ups that drive the ratings rather than get stuck with UT/UA.  IF THEY WANT IT, then let them reap the SOS/ratings etc for that "rivalry" pick, if not, let them change to the support of their fans/students/alumni...maybe even their network?

Again, it is simple. This would also be as fair as possible, as they pick their own poison or simply play the rotating schedule. Fans can heap all the "sniffling" comments they want, but it doesn't change the FACT that for the better part of 6 years Bama has had a relatively easy win with their "cross-divisional rival" as compared to say LSU, Arkansas or Auburn. Does this explain why they have dominated during this time? There are years you could make that argument when 1 win/loss in conference decides frequently who does/does not play in the SEC Championship. However, the simple beauty is, this permits them to play who they want to and THEN only Bama has Bama to blame for scheduling UT every year and UT can only blame themselves if they agree to be the Generals to Bama's Globetrotters.

If this is adopted, I would be very interested to see what "rivalries" survived past 2 tears and even more so which sprung up.

buddha22
buddha22

No sniffling, simple solution. Don't like being homecoming, actually win a game.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@Marchrevin 

Florida and LSU have played every season since 1971.  That's 42 years in a row.  And only one of the schools involved in that game is crying about it.

If you read the piece, you'd see that we've pointed to how quickly teams rise and fall... with no warning.

And if you have any since of history, you know that LSU had about a 15-year stretch when it could have taken advantage of Alabama's ups and downs.  It did not.

Thanks for reading the site,

John

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

@Marchrevin Still does not change the fact that they did not beat Bama in those years when they needed to. Nothing about playing Florida changed what LSU needed to do and did not get accomplished. And the article shows that LSU had its years to capitalize on a strong Tenn time frame. They fact that they were incapable of doing so because they themselves were not that good, is once again no ones fault but their own. Bama was not complaining about a strong Tenn team then, so stop complaining about a so so Florida team now.

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

I should also mention that this does not in anyway address the issue of not seeing or playing certain teams for years at a time. It will in fact likely worsen it at times. However something has to give. going to a nine game slate could compensate for such as with everything else. The above is mainly to resolve issues of parity and transparancy in the scheduling model.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] two schools.  I can’t think of a better example about how all of this is nothing more than the natural ebb and flow between rival schools in a tough football conference.  Too bad Miles can’t see [...]

  2. [...] 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: [...]

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