SEC scheduling: Balance or tradition?

 

When it comes to college football, I’m a traditionalist. I think tradition is the bedrock on which the sport has been built. It is the thing that binds one generation of fans to the next. So if you’re going to mess with tradition, we’re going to have a problem.

But yesterday Joe wrote this on the subject of SEC scheduling:

 

Tony,
Speaking of scheduling, why is the SEC set up so unfairly in cross division games? Instead of playing 1 permanent & 2 rotating teams in SEC East vs. SEC West, why don’t they do the practical thing like rotating all of them & having no permanent match ups?  This way everyone would play everyone the same amount of times. Please don’t give me the ol’ “SEC has to keep up its old rivalries.” Who cares? They would still play fairly often plus those teams don’t dominate the conference anymore anyway. It is time to move on & make it a level playing field
.

Well, let’s look at Joe’s question and try to determine who would care if the SEC changed its scheduling format.

Currently each SEC team plays an eight-game conference schedule comprised of the five teams in its division, one permanent opponent in the other division, and two teams in the other division that rotate on and off the schedule. The permanent cross-division opponents are:

Alabama: Tennessee

Arkansas: South Carolina

Auburn: Georgia

Florida: LSU

Kentucky: Miss. State

Ole Miss:  Vanderbilt

This format ensures that a school will play every conference member four times in a 10-year period. In that same period every school will make at least two visits to every SEC stadium.

What Joe wants to do is eliminate the permanent opponents in the other division and simply rotate that part of the schedule. So a team in the Eastern Division would play three teams in the Western Division home and home for two years. In the next two year cycle it would play the other three teams home and home.

That would certainly balance out the scheduling over a four-year period. But it would also eliminate three great cross-division rivalries that are now being played on an annual basis:

Alabama and Tennessee first played in 1901. Since 1928 the two teams have met every year except for 1943. This rivalry is so great that the late Al Browning wrote a book about it: “The Third Saturday in October.” This was considered the greatest rivalry in the South BEFORE the SEC was founded in 1933.

Georgia and Auburn first played in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in 1892. Since then Georgia and Auburn have played every year except for 1893, 1897, 1917, 1918, and 1943. It is the oldest continuous rivalry in the South.

Florida and LSU didn’t start playing on an annual basis until 1971 but here lately it has been one of the best games of the year. Florida dominated last season in Gainesville (51-21) but LSU’s 28-24 comeback win in Baton Rouge in 2007 was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen at a college football game. It would be a shame to lose that.

Remember that when the SEC first went to divisional play in 1992 each team had TWO permanent opponents in the other division. Eight years ago the conference adopted the 5-1-2 scheduling format. It met with some resistance because some good annual rivalries like Florida-Auburn fell by the wayside. But Commissioner Roy Kramer was able to get it pushed through because certain games, like Georgia vs. Alabama, were not happening often enough.

But balance has to be weighed against tradition, which is why the SEC did not adopt a model like the Big 12, which completely rotates opponents from the other division. That decision meant that Oklahoma (South Division) and Nebraska (North Division) would not play every season and, in retrospect, I think that was a mistake by the Big 12.

The ACC knew this when it put Miami and Florida State in separate divisions when it went to divisional play in 2005. Those teams must play every year because of the tradition and appeal to television. That’s why the ACC adopted the SEC format.

I’ve often said that what really defines a tough SEC schedule are the teams you have to play in the other division. There is no question that Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, and Tennessee have tougher schedules year in and year out because they have a permanent non-division opponent that ranks among the league’s top six traditional powers.

For what it’s worth, here are non-division schedules for each team in 2009:

Alabama: Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee.

Arkansas: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina.

Auburn: Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia.

Florida: LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State.

Georgia: Arkansas, LSU, Auburn.

Kentucky: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State.

LSU: Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida.

Ole Miss: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee.

Miss. State: Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky.

South Carolina: Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas.

Tennessee: Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss.

Vanderbilt: LSU, Miss. State, Ole Miss.

 

So if you’re an SEC fan, what do you think? Would you give up those traditional rivalries on an annual basis to balance out the schedule? Or are these games so good for fans and television that you can live with what may sometimes be an unbalanced schedule?

The floor is yours.

 

179 comments Add your comment

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
10:51 am

Tide Rising,

Does Duke’s stadium hold more than Cameron Indoor????LOL

Ross

May 7th, 2009
10:51 am

Tony I am NOT an SEC fan but this is good stuff!

Otto

May 7th, 2009
10:54 am

Tide:

UGA/Aubun 51-53-8 Auburn leads. Points Scored 1747 to 1698 UGA leads
Bama vs UT 46-38-7 Bama leads. Points scored 1523 to 1267 Bama leads
UF/LSU 29-23-3 UF leads. Points scored 1082 to 906 UF leads

m, Call us when the ACC gets a BCS at large invite.

Lewis Grizzard, Lewis was a diehard UGA fan and as such, I have no doubt he would watch that game with great interest pulling for LSU if for no other reason that any UGA fan likes to see UF loose in conf play and a UF loss helps UGA in the SEC standings.

Gator Growl

May 7th, 2009
10:54 am

Tradition is the very foundation of college football! Keep the traditions!

Urban Warfare

May 7th, 2009
10:59 am

Hey m(oron)…did you say something??

AltamahaDawg

May 7th, 2009
10:59 am

Not that it matters, but the problem is more of logistics than tradition. The format described of playing three for 2 years, then the other three could end up LESS balanced than now. I mean who gets to play AU, AL, LSU for 2 years, then MSU, OL’MIss, ARK for 2 years? Or TN, GA, FL the other way. I assume they would try to control that, but there are only so many combinations. Somebody is going to feel the full brunt of really bad combo every few years. As it stand now, the permanants seem to be pretty failry matched top to bottom to “cushion” the rotation.

At the very least the rotation would be less subtle. A 2 yr cycle for a 3 team staggered rotation just doesn’t work, at least not that I can draw out on my napkin. You would have wholesale changes to the inter-divisional schedule every 2 yrs. or swap 2 one year one the next. Just not an orderly matrix any way you look at it.

The one permanant team allows the staggared rotation to work more smoothly.

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
11:01 am

Saint Nick,

Either JB was just being nice to the ACC fans or perhaps he was thinking about basketball. JB is a good guy so I’ll just assume he was nice to suggest that 28,000 would show up to Duke-Wake.

Otton, Thanks for the stats. I knew the Auburn-UGA series was especially tight and I do remember several years ago when they played something like the 100th game that the 2 teams were within 5 pts of each other or something like that, which is amazing after 100 games. Who would want to lose a series like that?

joe

May 7th, 2009
11:05 am

Thanks Tony for taking time to look at this issue a little deeper from my opinions yesterday.
I appreciate your respectful comments as well as the comments from the readers except whoever that “Dorsey Hill” Tool is for calling me an idiot. Anonymity allows Napoleons like him to feel better about themselves.
Looking forward to the 2009 season.

Bobby Fenton

May 7th, 2009
11:06 am

What they really ought to do is simply play a 9-game conference shcedule. You maintain all traditions, get to renew other ones (like Florida-Auburn being annual again), and the best part of the whole thing is that college football fans would get more bang for their buck.

When your team only plays a home game on 7 days out of the whole year, it is a shame when three of those games are Troy, Appalachian State, Charleston Southern, and the like.

SEC games are more fun, more exciting, more passion inducing, and more competitive.

I understand there will be a counter argument about making it even harder for SEC teams to come out of the conference with national title worthy records. It’s a valid point.

murfdawg

May 7th, 2009
11:13 am

This is the 21st century and all anybody cares about is the MNC. In order for UGA to get to the MNC, they need to drop fl and AU from the schedule every year.Go to a rotating schedule, fill in with Chas Southern,Troy and FAU. Score a lot of points and impress the voters and get voted into the top two and play Ohio State for the MNC. That is the way you can do it and if all you care about is the BCS MNC, then you will be happy.

Southern football is special. Just read TB’s book and you can get an idea. I have experienced the grandeur of SEC football for over 40 years and I like the tradition. I cannot imagine UGA not playing fl, AU and GT at the end of the season every year. Yes it has cost us some wins and possibly a couple of championships. But when we have a championship team, we can beat all three and that is the true mark of a champion. And that is the tradition I would like to see continue.

If we were to lose to fl and AU but won the MNC, who would be happy?

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
11:15 am

Techies like M come on here just about everyday talking about they beat 3 SEC teams last year. TRY PLAYING 8 EVERY YEAR ACC LOSERS!!!!!

Otto

May 7th, 2009
11:17 am

AltamahaDawg good points. I agree and as Tide pointed out the pairings are very even, long standing rivals.

Tide, I agree and the 3rd weekend in Oct is a classic. Wade or Thomas vs Neyland, Fulmer being accused of putting Bama under probation. The Bama vs UT game is as historic as any in CFB with 2 historic powerhouses. 3 current SEC teams have played in the Rose UGA, UT, and Bama. It is only a matter of time until this game is back on stage at the national level like UF/LSU.

Kris

May 7th, 2009
11:19 am

Fairness should be the #1 priority when scheduling.

LSU plays both UGA and Florida from the East this year.
Alabama and Ole Miss play NEITHER UGA or Florida from the East this year.

LSU is starting out at a huge disadvantage in the SEC West race, and that is a travesty.

If the two teams are good enough for a traditional rivalry to be historically relevant, then they will meet in the SEC Championship Game.

[...] answers about SEC football schedule [...]

RAMBLE ON!!!

May 7th, 2009
11:22 am

JB, CBS has an exclusive with the SEC Football. This could explain a 3:30pm game every Sat., and that would be 100% not 90%.

You maybe nice, just not very smart.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
11:34 am

CBS had games with SEC VS ACC last year, Wasn’t Tech and UGA on Cbs. That would be less than 100%

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
11:38 am

Kris,

It would be impossible to predict when teams from each division will be good, great, terrible etc. That is why the SEC set up this format. Play 11 SEC games and 1 cupcake. That would leave more money in the conference.

Otto

May 7th, 2009
11:40 am

Kris, LSU played UGA in Saban’s 1st MNC and Miles lost to the East team on rotation Kentucky during his MC season. The schedule will work out as nobody in the SEC is easy just ask BC after Vandy and there is no way 6 teams can meet in 1 conf title game. CFB and sports in general is tradition. Can you see MLB without the Red Sox vs. the Yankees?

will

May 7th, 2009
11:41 am

What if we added an extra conference date and went to a 5-2-2 format? We could bring back some of those old rivalries AND the irregular inter-division opponents would see one another more often. What’s the downside there?

Gatorzone

May 7th, 2009
11:42 am

Is that the real Bobby Fenton?

Aubies love Corndogs

May 7th, 2009
11:45 am

From a ‘tradition’ perspective, Tony is right. But from a ‘fair’ perspective, Joe is right.

How can you compare the schedules of the two teams expected to battle for the SEC West: Ole Miss and LSU. Hmmm…. Would you rather play South Carolina and Tennessee or Georgia and Florida? Nobody in the SEC is a gimme, but I think I’d rather take my chances against SC and UT…

Gatorzone

May 7th, 2009
11:51 am

Scheduling has NEVER been fair and it never will be. There is no way to make it fair. The bottom line is that if you take care of your games, you should be in line for an SEC and possibly National Championship. If not, then do not complain.

LSUONE

May 7th, 2009
11:56 am

My problem with SEC scheduling is this. I think that the western and eastern division champs should be decided on games within the division.
If LSU beats all the teams in the west then they should be the division champs. What they do against the eastern division should only be used in a tiebreaker situation.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
12:03 pm

Gatorzone,

Usually the fans who complain are fans of the teams who have a terible season. UF had one of the toughest schedules I have ever seen when they one the first NC under Meyer. I know they played Bama and LSU, I don’t remember the third.

Kris

May 7th, 2009
12:03 pm

Agree that you can’t predict when a team will be good and when it won’t. But let’s be honest. Florida and UGA are going to be more difficult opponents than Vandy and Kentucky 99% of the time. That’s just the way it is and probably always will be.

Why not keep the rivalries and determine the East and West champion based on a team’s division record only?

Dean

May 7th, 2009
12:03 pm

I agree with you Gatorzone but you have to also realize that it cuts both ways when you start looking out of the conference and analyzing who goes to the NC. Do you think a one loss USC team deserves it any less than a 1 loss Gator team? When it comes down to it I typically say to myself, “who has proven more with their schedule”. Is it fair that a team that played nobody has a shot at blocking a team like Florida had proven by winning big games?

DawgGirl32

May 7th, 2009
12:06 pm

m – do you ever read back through your posts and think “that’s it! that’s why I’m still a virgin!”

GeoffDawg, that gets the award for best comment of the day.

Jack

May 7th, 2009
12:11 pm

The biggest problem with the current scheduling structure is not the equitability. The biggest problem is that not one kid who signs a scholarship offer to play football in the SEC has the opportunity to play on the road at every SEC stadium (barring a rate 6th year of eligibility). I think that is a crime. I think that is poor form for any traditionalist.

Tony, your description of “Two visits in a 10 year period” is lipstick on a pig. If you are a traditionalist and a purist, how can you tell a kid that he will not play in every SEC stadium? “Hey kid, too bad you didn’t sign with Florida next year, we would have had a chance to play in Bryant-Denny”.

Stadiums that will be missed by a kid signing this past February (if they redshirt, they will miss a different stadium):
Alabama – will not play at UGA
Arkansas – will not play at Kentucky
Auburn – will not play at Vandy
LSU – will not play at S. Carolina
Ole Miss – will not play at Florida
Miss State – will not play at Tenn
Florida – will not play at Arkansas
Georgia – will not play at LSU
Kentucky – will not play at Bama
S. Carolina – will not play at Ole Miss
Tennessee – will not play at Auburn
Vanderbilt – will not play at Miss State

So, lets assume you are a Bama fan, but you absolutely love SEC Football. You die for games at Bryant Denny, but you love to see the best players come through and play Bama – the All SEC players, the All Americans. Well, sorry, but if the wrong school has a great player who happens to graduate from high school in a given year, you are not going to see them.

Now that is an insult to tradition and purity Tony!

Otto

May 7th, 2009
12:15 pm

Does a USC 1 loss team deserve it less than a 1 loss UF team? Without a doubt Yes same goes for the Big 10 or ACC champ. IMO the Big 12 is the only conf. that is close to the SEC.

The SEC standing should go off of their season long conf. record. It encourages every team to play every game and a conf. champ should be the team best positioned to win a BCS title. If you win your games chances are you have better chances of winning the BCS title game.

AltamahaDawg

May 7th, 2009
12:18 pm

Bobby are you saying play a 9 game total rotation? Where there are some years that UGA and UF do not play? And eliminate the SECCG?

Or leave the Divisions alone and just add an extra inter-division game to the schedule?

AltamahaDawg

May 7th, 2009
12:19 pm

Jack, your solution would be?

Otto

May 7th, 2009
12:24 pm

Jack, UGA plays Bama more often under the current system than ever before. The current system is best of all compromises between tradition which creates TV audience and money vs fairness. The SEC has had the greatest success generating money and MNC.

The ACC did a bad job creating division. The Big 12 did not keep rivalaries, OU not playing Nebraska… Tx. not playing Ark…. The Big 12 should have tried to keep Ark. The Big 12 lost some great games and alot of money. The SEC has the biggest TV contracts and the highest paying nonBCS bowl.

The schedule will never be fair and I argue that Kentucky and SC can be tougher than UF and UGA if the scheduling does not allow by weeks to recover. LSU vs Kentucky during Miles MNC is an example.

Jack

May 7th, 2009
12:30 pm

Big 12 rotation I guess. I don’t think it is realistic to play 11 conference games. I know it sucks to lose the traditional rivalries, but with the equity thing and what I described, I would like to see it change. I could see going to some sort of a 9 game rotation, hadn’t given that very much thought.

Dean

May 7th, 2009
12:31 pm

What does ‘m’ say about UGA football players scoring 19 points higher on the academic scale than GT players. There goes that, “We are so much smarter and have a high commitment to academics” argument.

alsim

May 7th, 2009
12:32 pm

I am not sure what “Joe” is complaining about. These match-ups look pretty balanced to me:

Untouchable, great traditions: Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia

Newbies: Arkansas-South Carolina are newest members of the conference so it makes sense to pair them off, especially when their biggest rivals are in other conferences (Texas, Clemson).

The rest of these teams play at pretty much the same level since the format was instituted (sorry, but it’s true).

Florida and LSU have won the last three National Championships. Is that not balance?

If you want to change anything, swap up Kentucky-Miss. State and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.

.

staff fan now

May 7th, 2009
12:41 pm

To sAint nick…the duke football sta (site of the rose bowl in WWII) can hold more than cam…but usually does not!

You can ask dog fans about the importance of quantity of fans….Tech beat dogs in Athens on dooley day….all of those fans went home wimping!

Otto

May 7th, 2009
12:41 pm

Jack, the system may not be fair but when you play the best it prepares you for the best. SEC has 3 of the last 4 BCS titles, the only 2 time BCS title winners with 2 of them, and the only conf to be undefeated in the BCS title game. THe Big 12 is the only conf with more than 1 BCS title. If it is producing more money and more championship IMO nothing needs to be fixed. Also 8 out of 12 teams have made it to the SECCG. Ole Miss may make it 9 out of 12 soon.

m

May 7th, 2009
12:43 pm

The academic scale is bullshiite. Another media bias towards the SEC. You guys are even overhyped in academics. The true geniuses play in the ACC….such as Reggie ‘123..what comes next?’ Ball and Stephon “GTU’ Marbury!

AltamahaDawg

May 7th, 2009
12:44 pm

Either you rotate, in which case there is always going to be some luck of the draw, and it is unavoidable that a player is not going to visit every campus in 4 yrs. 9 games doesnt fix that, and the 3 and 3 model doesn’t either. Or you play an 11 game SEC regular season, no CG, best record wins (going to tie breakers quite often).

uga_b

May 7th, 2009
12:47 pm

This is easy kick out the ACC and SWC teams Arkansas and So. Car. Then move to a 9-game in conference schedule. LSU would pick up arkansas as one of their OOC games. Dont know if we would miss So. Car as much as UGA misses Clemson.

Kevin Cone

May 7th, 2009
12:49 pm

Joe must not be from around here.

AltamahaDawg

May 7th, 2009
12:51 pm

I remember a couple of quarters back in the day when I too was convinced that the whole “academic scale” was very bias and didn’t fully appreciate my efforts to enjoy the college experience.

bank walker

May 7th, 2009
12:56 pm

Please let it be…

Otto

May 7th, 2009
12:59 pm

The 9 game schedule is not working as well for the PAC10 as the current format is working for the SEC.

Drew-G-A

May 7th, 2009
1:15 pm

Whoever Joe is, he’s an idiot, and obviously one of those new college football fans that just got in to he sport and thinks it should be more “fair” like college basketball. It’s blasphemy to even think of Georgia not playing Auburn every year. Oldest Rivalry in the South, not just the deep south. look it up UGA/AU predates that other rivalry claiming to be the oldest by some months.

Otto

May 7th, 2009
1:19 pm

The Big 12 keep the tie breaker rules the same good news. Tony if this is Firday’s article please explain why Texas Tech should be excluded from the debate. Yes they were one play away from loosing to Tx. However OU could have kept Tx to one score if Stoops had not gone for it on 4th down.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
1:29 pm

M,

What the hell are you slapping your gums together about?? M you make NO sense usually, but now you sound like a 3 yr old girl, whining and screaming to get some attention!!!!

Cuz

May 7th, 2009
1:36 pm

Georgia not playing Auburn. Heaven forbid. That would be like American Idol without Simon, The Apprentice without Donald Trump, a blog devoted to UGA sports without the idiotic, juvenile comments of m. Spare me this travesty.

Preston

May 7th, 2009
1:51 pm

Smile, I definitely meant to hit the “8″ but thanks for noticing. All SEC teams have plenty of IC games to justify claiming as tough a schedule as anyone regardless of the OOC schedule. UGA is making a huge effort to schedule better teams from other conferences and I’m proud of them for it. Now watch some smarta$$ come on here and mention NMS in 11′. ALL teams have a couple of patsies on their schedule and I dare someone to disprove that!

Gen Neyland

May 7th, 2009
1:55 pm

m : …and a pitiful LSU team waxed the bee…let’s not even mention Vandy-BC.

Keep the traditions alive. Keep them on their scheduled weekends. This way, those that are working know in advance when to plan a sick day or two.