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Carolina’s Spurrier Is Ready To Do Some More Talking

Readers of this site know that we believe you can easily follow the ups and downs of the South Carolina football team by tracing the number of barbs and digs Steve Spurrier tosses out during press conferences, at SEC Media Days, and to random scribes.

When he’s winning, he’s lippy.  When he’s losing, he’s pouty.  Following Carolina’s horrible bowl loss to UConn a couple of seasons ago, Spurrier looked embalmed and lifeless as he stood behind the podium during Media Days.  Two years later, with an East Division title and an 11-win season under his belt, he’s been talking more.

The coach freely admits that in a fresh interview with ESPN’s Chris Low… and he also makes it clear that he doesn’t understand why folks take his words so seriously:

 

“I didn’t do a whole lot of talking because there wasn’t much to talk about.  We were winning seven games a year until the last two years.  If you don’t win very much, it’s hard to say anything…

They all want to hear something funny at the booster club meetings in the summer and laugh and giggle a little bit.  Bobby Bowden used to do it all the time, and they all thought it was funny.  But then I’d do it, and it would get out there, and they’d all take it personally and say, ‘You son of a gun.’

That’s OK, though … because it’s all just a bunch of talk.”

 

Well, it may just be talk, but there’s no debating the fact that Spurrier’s words get a bit more hurtful the more he wins.  In the early 1990s he once said this, for example: “How is it when (Georgia) signs people, they get the best, but when we play, we’ve got the best players?  Georgia has signed a lot of good players.  Something just happens to them at Georgia, I guess.”

A joke is a bunch of talk.  An insult is an insult.  That was an insult aimed directly at Georgia’s coaches.

Spurrier’s free to toss barbs — and many of them are amusing — but when some of his jokes read like insults, it’s tough for him to fall back on the, “I don’t know folks are so upset,” defense.

We can all expect to hear plenty from Spurrier next week during the SEC Meetings in Destin.  His plan to not count cross-divisional games will be one of the most debated topics of the week.

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Spurrier Celebrates 11-Win Season At Carolina

Steve Spurrier has done it.  He’s turned around the South Carolina football program.  In 2010, the Cocks won their first SEC division title.  In 2011, they won 11 games for the first time and swept their East Division rivals.  They also continue to do well on the recruiting trail.

And Spurrier knows it.  A tip of the cap to FootballScoop.com for picking up this video from Saturday’s South Carolina-Florida basketball game.  The coach was exuberant as he addressed a loud, fired up crowd and praised his team.




His closing comment?  “Let’s try to go for 12 next year!”  Twelve wins and/or an SEC title would be the only way to top 2011 — the best coaching job of Spurrier’s career.



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RB Coach Graham Leaves USC For UT

South Carolina running backs Jay Graham is going home.  After serving on Steve Spurrier’s staff for three seasons, Graham will return to Knoxville to take over as running backs coach at Tennessee — a possibility we mentioned earlier today.

“Jay is not only one of the most accomplished running backs in Tennessee history, but he has also proven to be one of the top running backs coaches in the SEC,” Derek Dooley said via press release.  “Jay understands what it means to be a Vol, and we are thrilled to have him on our staff.”

For Dooley, the hire is a sound one.  He takes an up-and-coming coach from an East Division rival, he sends the message that his program isn’t so troubled that other coaches wouldn’t want to come onboard, and he earns some goodwill from the fanbase by hiring an ex-Vol.

For Graham, the decision is a bit tougher to decipher.  Yes, he’ll get to help his alma mater.  Also, you can bet he’ll get a hefty raise.  But while Dooley and his staff will face a hot seat season next year, Spurrier has things on the rise in Columbia.

Be it for his heart or his wallet, Graham might be risking his rear — at least in the short term — by moving from the Palmetto State to the Volunteer State.

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Spurrier Won’t Call Saturday’s “Must Win” Game “Must Win”

Georgia is 5-1 in the SEC, South Carolina is 5-2.  For the Gamecocks to repeat as East Division champions, they need to win Saturday at home against Florida and then hope that the Bulldogs are knocked off at home by either Auburn (on Saturday) or Kentucky (next Saturday).

If the Cocks and Dawgs finish 6-2 in league play, Carolina’s 45-42 win over Georgia way back on September 10th would break the tie and Steve Spurrier’s team would head to Atlanta for the league’s championship game.

So unless Carolina expects Auburn and Kentucky to knock off Georgia, the Cocks must win Saturday against Florida to keep hope alive, right?  Not according to the Ol’ Ball Coach:


“We’ll try our best to win.  I don’t like to use the word ‘must.’  Sometimes your guys get too uptight if you say we have to do this or do that.  The only thing we say is play your best.  When you look at the way our team has played this year, you have to say those guys are 7-2 (overall) and in position to achieve some things this year.  We’re not moping around that we’re 7-2.  We have to play the game and fire up some emotion.”


Fair enough.  If the coach doesn’t want to put added pressure on his team — something he’s never worried about with quarterbacks — then that’s his call.  But any Carolina player capable of reading a leaderboard knows what’s at stake Saturday.

As for the team he’s now chasing, Spurrier said yesterday, “If Georgia wins seven straight conference games, they probably deserve to be the Eastern Division champion.”

Probably so.

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Richt Beats Florida, Silences (Some) Critics For Now

On Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, Mark Richt won a game he most desperately needed.  And judging by some of the chatter on Georgia messageboards, there are more than a few Dawg fans disappointed with their team’s 24-20 victory over Florida.

Why?

Because many of Richt’s critics already believe he’s past his prime, that the SEC has caught up to him, and that he’ll never be the one to win “the big one” in Athens.  Better UGA had lost to the dreaded Gators and sealed Richt’s fate than to have him live another day and survive for another season.

That’s not uncommon thinking, of course.  Those fire-eating anti-Richters aren’t the first bunch to root against their own team for what they believe to be the greater good overall.  (I liked Pete Carroll as the coach of my Patriots, but the end of his three-year reign I wanted him to lose so he’d get an ouster.  So I understand the thought process.)

In speaking to a Georgia sportstalk show host this morning, I was told that his email inbox had been filled with “yeah, buts” over the weekend:


“Yeah, but Georgia only won because Florida turned the ball over twice.”

“Yeah, but Georgia played terribly on special teams and didn’t deserve to win.”

“Yeah, but the coaches didn’t have the team ready as they fell behind 17-3 early.”

“Yeah, but this Florida team just isn’t very good.”


All may be true.  But you can bet those folks pshaw-ing UGA’s win on Saturday have never credited Richt in past years by saying things like, “Well, Richt’s team should have won and we can’t blame him for those fumbles.”  Yeah.  Right.

Well, it doesn’t work both ways.  The bottom line is the score on the scoreboard.  Winning is winning, whether the opponent plays well or not.  Just as losing has been losing, whether Richt’s Bulldogs have played poorly or played well, only to be undone by a bad break or clumsy turnover.

After an 0-2 start to the season, the Bulldogs are now 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the SEC.  Considering South Carolina’s schedule (at Arkansas, Florida at home) and the way the Cocks’ offense looked Saturday night in Knoxville without Marcus Lattimore, the Bulldogs (Auburn and Kentucky at home) appear to be in the East Division driver’s seat despite USC holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Dawgs drop a game or two from here on out, the calls for Richt’s head will start anew.  And if Georgia comes from behind to win the East, that accomplishment will be pooh-poohed by the “we need a new coach” crowd.  “He backed into it.”

Tough noogies for that bunch. 

If Richt wins eight or more games it will be the 10th time in 11 seasons that he’s reached that number.  If he records nine or more wins it will be the 8th time in 11 seasons that he’s accomplished that.  And if he wins the East Division, it will be the 4th time in 11 years that he’s taken the Dawgs to Atlanta.  And only a 6-7 2010 season would mar his otherwise spiffy record.

Like him or not, coaches who put up those kinds of numbers aren’t fired.  Whether he wins ugly or wins pretty, as long as Richt keeps winning, the heat of his seat will continue to cool. 

Much to the chagrin of those who’ve already decided he needs to go.

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SEC Headlines – 10/26/11 Part Two

1.  Some Florida players still hold a grudge from Georgia’s unsportsmanlike touchdown celebration way back in 2007.

2.  The Gators know how much this game means as they try to improve upon UF’s 18-3 mark against UGA since 1990.

3.  This writer says the Dawgs will have to be calm to tame the Gators.

4.  Rather than put all the focus on Florida, Mark Richt continues to talk to his team about winning the SEC East.

5.  Receiver Malcolm Mitchell suffered a setback in practice and may miss Saturday’s game due to a hamstring injury.

6.  When the hometown team is as bad as Kentucky, it’s no wonder the media continues to buzz about the school’s new black uniforms…

7.  And it’s basketball team.  John Calipari says Terrence Jones is more focused this season.

8.  South Carolina held a players-only, team meeting on Monday to remind themselves that an East Division title can be won with victories of Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida over the next three weeks.

9.  In discussing Justin Worley — the Carolina native who’ll start at QB for the Vols on Saturday — Steve Spurrier makes it sound like he has no idea who his program recruits.

10.  The Volunteers have got to overcome their second-half woes.

11.  They’ll have a chance to do that against a team that’s still recovering mentally from the loss of Marcus Lattimore.

12.   Tailback Zac Stacy could be Vanderbilt’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 16 years.

13.  Arkansas’ players have noticed Vandy’s “improved and energetic play.”

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SEC Headlines – 10/24/11 Part One

1.  The SEC has named its Players of the Week.

2.  Florida should be a lot healthier as it prepares for it’s battle with Georgia.

3.  Will Muschamp expects John Brantley to practice today and to play on Saturday.

4.  Georgia will counter with the return of safety-turned-linebacker Alec Ogletree.

5.  For Mark Richt, ending a three-game losing streak to the Gators is of major importance.

6.  Another man’s down in Lexington — UK running back Raymond Sanders will likely miss the Cats’ game with Mississippi State due to a high ankle sprain.

7.  Kentucky fans stayed away from Saturday’s game with Jacksonville State in droves.  (Photo included.  Just brutal.)

8.  South Carolina and Georgia appear — for now — to be locked in a two-team race for the East Division title.

9.  Steve Spurrier now says he’ll speak with the media even if writer Ron Morris is present.  (This will lead many to say that his harangue against Morris was clearly meant to be a smokescreen for the Stephen Garcia dismissal, but it could be that school president Harris Pastides intervened.)

10.  A day after burning quarterback Justin Worley’s redshirt in a 31-point loss to Alabama, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley says he has no idea how he’ll use the freshman from here out.  (Dooley seems to have a little Spurrier in him when it comes to making emotional in-game decisions.)

11.  A check of the messageboards showed this writer Vol fans’ patience is wearing thin.

12.  Vanderbilt tallied 530 yards (344 on the ground) to beat Army and snap a three-game losing streak on Saturday.

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SEC Realignment And Schedule Options – Part One

Today might just be the day that Missouri makes its desire to join the SEC official.  Or not.  It seems we’ve been down this road a few dozen times with different schools and different conferences over the past 18 or so months.  Just when it appears the tumblers will click into place, something unexpected happens.

But assuming Mizzou really does tell the Big 12 that it’s out the door — if not this week, at some point — the SEC will have some serious decisions to make regarding the future layout of the league.  Adding schools creates new rivalries.  By default, expansion also kills off some old ones.  The key for a league as steeped in tradition as the SEC is to keep the majority of its most historic rivalries alive.

Over the next couple of posts, we’ll focus on the SEC’s division alignment options.  Auburn to the East.  Missouri to the East.  Mississippi State to the East.  Even the idea of shifting Alabama and Auburn to the East and moving Vandy to the West has been batted about by fans and media outlets.  Which option is best?  And by best, we mean the best for the most schools.

But before we get into that conversation, let’s look first at something just a tad less complicated — scheduling.

Most SEC coaches have said they want to sit tight with an eight-game conference slate each year.  League athletic directors made it clear just two weeks ago that that remains their goal, too, even if faced with a 13-team league next fall.  There are a couple of reasons the current format appeals to coaches and ADs.

First, in a league like the SEC, eight league games seem quite tough enough.  Nevermind the fact that the move from six to seven to eight league games per season actually benefited the SEC.  Pay no attention to the fact that the SEC’s reputation for toughness helped LSU reach the BCS Championship Game with two losses at the end of the 2007 season.  In the eyes of most coaches, adding a league game would make the odds longer for winning a national crown.  Even though adding conference games and a league championship game have led to more national titles in the last 20 years than were won by SEC schools in the 20 years prior to those additions.

Second, non-conference scheduling is easier with an eight-game conference plan.  Each AD knows that he’ll have four guaranteed home games per year against conference foes.  That allows each school to work with four open non-conference home slots each season.  But if the SEC were to go to a nine-game league slate, every other season a school would play four league home games and five league road games.  That means every other year, an AD would only have three slots to fill with non-conference opponents.  That means less money from the sale of tickets, merchandise, parking, concessions, etc.

Championships and cash.  Those are two pretty strong reasons to stick with the current eight-game format.  But despite those reasons, most BCS leagues appear to be moving in the direction of nine-game schedules anyway.  The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC are either currently playing nine-game conference schedules or are planning to do so in the coming years.  At MrSEC.com, we believe the SEC will eventually have to do the same.

Let’s take a look at the current schedule rotation in the SEC.  It’s the 5-1-2 plan.  Each season, each SEC school plays its five division rivals, one permanent cross-divisional rival, and two rotating foes from the opposite division.  We’ll use Alabama as our example from here out.

Each season, Alabama plays Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss from within its own division.  The Crimson Tide also have an annual cross-divisional tussle with Tennessee.  That leaves the other East Division schools to rotate on and off Bama’s schedule as follows:

 

12-school league, 8-game schedule, current 5-1-2 format

2007 — Vanderbilt (A), Georgia (H)

2008 — Georgia (A), Kentucky (H)

2009 — Kentucky (A), South Carolina (H)

2010 — South Carolina (A), Florida (H)

2011 — Florida (A), Vanderbilt (H)

 

At that point, the rotation begins anew.  As you can see, in a five-season span, Alabama would face each non-permanent East Division foe twice.  That’s a pretty quick rotation that insures all of the league’s schools see each other quite often.  It’s a system that’s proven to work well.

Now let’s imagine an expanded 14-school SEC.

For the sake of argument let’s say Missouri joins the SEC’s East Division.  Let’s also put down Tennessee as Alabama’s permanent cross-divisional foe.  Since most SEC officials say they want to maintain an eight-game schedule, that’s what we’ll look at below.  In this scenario, the SEC’s 5-1-2 format would become a 6-1-1 format.

Our example, Alabama, would continue to play all of its division foes — something the NCAA rule book currently lists as a must if a league is to play a championship game (though the MAC was given a waiver).  That would mean games against Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M each and every year.  Tennessee would be an annual opponent as noted above.  That leaves six East Division foes to rotate through one at a time:

 

14-school league, 8-game schedule, 6-1-1 format

2012 — Vanderbilt (H)

2013 — Vanderbilt (A)

2014 — Georgia (H)

2015 — Georgia (A)

2016 — Kentucky (H)

2017 — Kentucky (A)

2018 — South Carolina (H)

2019 — South Carolina (A)

2020 — Florida (H)

2021 — Florida (A)

2022 — Missouri (H)

2023 — Missouri (A)

 

See the problem?  Instead of taking just five years to play each non-permanent, cross-divisional foe twice… it would take a full 12 years under a 6-1-1 plan.  In this example, Alabama wouldn’t see Vanderbilt between 2013 until 2024.  That’s a long time in between games.

Now, it’s possible that the SEC could break up those games and create a format such as this:

 

14-school league, 8-game schedule, 6-1-1 format, games broken up

2012 — Vanderbilt (H)

2013 — Georgia (A)

2014 — Kentucky (H)

2015 — South Carolina (A)

2016 — Florida (H)

2017 — Missouri (A)

2018 — Vanderbilt (A)

2019 — Georgia (H)

2020 — Kentucky (A)

2021 — South Carolina (H)

2022 — Florida (A)

2023 — Missouri (H)

 

Such a plan would enable schools to play more often (once every six seasons), but it would still leave 12 years in between campus visits.  Vanderbilt, for example, wouldn’t play in Tuscaloosa between 2012 and 2024.  That’s hardly an ideal scenario.

For that reason, we expect the SEC will follow the lead of the other major conferences and someday adopt a nine-game schedule using a 6-1-2 format.  With the current 12-team, 5-1-2 plan, each school faces its non-divisional foes twice in a five-year span.  In a 14-team, 6-1-1 plan, each school would play its non-divisional foes twice in a 12-year span.  A 6-1-2 plan, on the other hand, would allow each school to play its non-divisional foes twice every six years:

 

14-school league, 9-game schedule, 6-1-2 format

2012 — Vanderbilt (A), Georgia (H)

2013 — Georgia (A), Kentucky (H)

2014 — Kentucky (A), South Carolina (H)

2015 — South Carolina (A), Florida (H)

2016 — Florida (A), Missouri (H)

2017 — Missouri (A), Vanderbilt (H)

 

That’s clearly the best option for maintaining the SEC’s current close-knit feel.  If the league is going to continue to play a round-robin divisional schedule — and it is — eventually the SEC will have to move to a nine-game, 6-1-2 league format.  It’s hard to picture any other plan working long term.  Regardless of the current wishes of SEC coaches and athletic directors.

 

So those are the options for scheduling a new 14-team SEC.  What about aligning the new divisions?  What plan protects the greatest number of historic rivalries?  What plan keeps the most schools happy?

Up next in Part Two of this quick series, we’ll look at the SEC’s most storied rivalries… the rivalries most in need of protection.

 

(Sidenotes — We intentionally did not discuss a potential 6-2-1 format because that will appear in our third piece on divisional realignments.  Also, we did not mention the fact that the Big 12 plays nine conference games now because there’s no telling what that league will look like in 2012 and beyond.)

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Missouri To The SEC “Inevitable And Imminent”

Last summer, when rumors swirled that the SEC was talking to Oklahoma and Texas A&M, many fans bemoaned the fact that the SEC might just become too tough to survive.  This fall, as rumors have heated up that Missouri will fill the slot once set aside for OU, many fans are bemoaning the fact that the SEC might be adding a team that they perceive to be a cupcake.

Mike Slive just can’t win.  (Aside from his bank account, of course.)

Well, it looks like those people who feel Mizzou isn’t good enough, isn’t Southern enough, or just isn’t something enough had better grab their crying towels ’cause all signs point to a Missouri-SEC marriage.  Soon.

 

1.  The New York Times reported late last night that “a university official with direct knowledge of the situation” called MU’s decision to apply for SEC membership “inevitable and imminent.”  The source said that Missouri expects “no problems” when it comes to gathering enough votes to enter the league.

That likely means that Missouri will be slotted in the SEC’s East Division.  Alabama — and it’s believed Tennessee — would not okay a Missouri application unless their Third Saturday in October rivalry were saved.  Either Bama — and Tennessee? and others? — will be outvoted or the league has assured everyone that Mizzou will go East.  Originally, it looked as though Auburn would move to the East and Missouri would stay in a more natural West alignment.

Reports from the Show-Me State have said that Missouri has no real preference in the matter, which we find surprising.  It would make sense for Missouri to land in the West in order to fire up a new rivalry with Arkansas and to keep a Big 12 rivalry alive with Texas A&M… which would also allow the Tigers to continue to recruit the state of Texas heavily.  The Tigers’ football success in recent years has been fueled by a Gary Pinkel-created Lonestar State pipeline.  If the Tigers land in the East, they will have to recruit Florida and Georgia more often.  (We assume that Arkansas would be made the Tigers’ permanent cross-divisional rival.)

Surprisingly, a quick look at the map shows that Missouri really isn’t that much farther from East Division schools than it is from those in the West.

 

2.  Orangebloods.com – the Rivals site covering Texas — reported Monday that three sources “close to the situation” have told that site that the Tigers are ready to depart the Big 12 for the SEC.  Orangebloods’ sources have said that MU may try to join the SEC for 2012-2013 rather than wait an extra year as interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas suggested last week.

Neinas’ comments regarding a 2013-14 departure for Mizzou were viewed by this site as nothing more than posturing.  If the Tigers go, the Big 12 will try to hit them with a sizable exit fee.  The best way to drive that penalty up is to claim that Missouri is somehow doing more damage to the league by leaving with such short notice.  Of course, the Tigers are likely to announce their plans only about a month after Texas A&M announced their own exit.  (Ironically, if Missouri announces a move on Thursday, it will have been 16 days from the time the school granted chancellor Brady Deaton the power to look around to the day MU makes an announcement of departure.  A&M also took 16 days to complete that exact same route.)

If Missouri joins the SEC — and we expect it will — we believe the Tigers will do so next summer along with Texas A&M.

 

3.  We mentioned Thursday above because The Kansas City Star reported last night that that day may be D-Day for the Tigers.  Yesterday, the school’s board of curators released an agenda calling for a closed executive session at 3:35pm on Thursday.

 

4.  On person not interested in all this expansion talk is Nick Saban.  Asked Monday about the possible end of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, Saban didn’t hold back.  ”Now we’re worrying about playing Missouri rather than Tennessee some time down the road.  I could give a s— about all that, excuse my French.  I mean, come on, let’s talk about (this week’s) game.  What year are we talking about when we’re not gonna play Tennessee — 2025?  I’m just hoping I can still go to the lake then, still walk around and go on a pontoon boat ride.”

The Birmingham News has video of the exchange right here.

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Report: SEC Eying 4×4 Approach To A&M’s 2012 Schedule

Former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton — the chairman of the SEC’s transition committee — says the “least-disruptive” schedule plan for 2012′s football schedule involves Texas A&M playing four SEC West and four SEC East opponents.

Templeton told Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News that the 4×4 model “would cause the fewest headaches, particularly since every SEC team’s nonconference schedules is set” (in Solomon’s words).  Here’s what Templeton said of the plan:

“If A&M plays four in one division and four in another, there are probably eight different schedules that could come together off that.  As a former AD, I would prefer the least-disruptive schedule that’s as competitively balanced as possible for one year, know that everybody has to sacrifice a little bit but that we’re fair to our new conference member.  A&M has had as much say as any other school.  They will be involved in how we determine the final concepts.”

Despite the fact that A&M could have a different type of schedule from the rest of its division mates, if the Aggies have the best record, they’ll be heading to Atlanta as division champ.  The league wants A&M to be eligible for the SEC title immediately.

Templeton didn’t rule out a scenario in which each West Division foe would meet (6 games) and each East Division foe would play (5 games), but he said, “mathematically, I don’t think it can be done.”

It could, but it would require a complete re-working of the cross-divisional games.  On that front, Templeton said the SEC is discussing options that might keep or eliminate every school’s cross-divisional permanent rivals for 2012.

Permanent non-divisional rivalries Auburn-Georgia, Tennessee-Alabama and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt are among the oldest rivalries in college football.

“Those are the issue we’ve got to decide,” Templeton told Solomon.  “Right now, everybody’s permanent (foe) is on the 2012 schedule.  Changing the (cross-division) rotation is a concept, but that’s not a preferable concept because it’s going to be very disruptive.  Keep in mind, everything we’re doing is for one year.”

Many of the issues Templeton discussed with Solomon, were first mentioned on this site back on September 27th.  You can read that piece here.

For that post we spoke with a high-ranking MAC official off the record because the MAC has been playing a 13-team schedule for five years.

We were told that the NCAA gave the MAC a waiver to hold a championship game even though it didn’t feature a round-robin schedule as the NCAA rulebook mandates.  This week it was reported elsewhere that the MAC did not seek or receive a waiver, but MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said his league did indeed receive a waiver and got clearance to skirt the rule… just as we initially reported.

Our off-the-record source told us that the MAC’s 13-team schedule worked “so well that we went out and added another football member beginning next year.”  That was the off-the-record comment.  Steinbrecher — on the record — told Solomon: “I won’t say scheduling is the only reason (the league is adding UMass), but it certainly played a role.”

To avoid all this nonsense, the SEC needs to tell Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton to speed things up on his end.  Otherwise, a 13-team schedule will become very, very troublesome for everyone.

And again, this is just about football.  Scheduling other sports will be a royal pain, too.

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