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:


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


May 7th, 2009
1:59 pm

Otto, didn’t Arkansas come to the SEC when the Southwest Conference dissolved?


May 7th, 2009
2:02 pm

I think the most recent post by m is someone making fun of his idiocy! Jack, and Joe cannot be true SEC lifer fans like most of us. Otherwise, they would NEVER suggest to stop the rivalries by some lame rotation. See the Pac 10 and how well that works? USC’s weak rotation last year kept them from the championship game.

Got 12?

May 7th, 2009
2:04 pm

In the interest of fairness and equity, let’s move all SEC games to a neutral site equidistant from each school and divide the tickets 50-50. Plus, all conference games must be played at the same time of day and the entire conference must have the same open week. Also, your record will determine who you play the following week as it would be unfair for your schedule to be harder than any other team’s.

Let’s stop whining and keep enjoying SEC football. Scheduling can never be fair. There are too many variables.


May 7th, 2009
2:06 pm

I am all for the current system. What has not been mentioned is on the 3rd Saturday of September LSU/Auburn & FL/UT play. I am a LSU fan and there have been numerous times I have listened to the Auburn/UGa game after we have traveled to Ole Miss. I fondly recall several years ago how we were screaming after UGa made a TD on the last play from the 30 yard line at Auburn. LSU needed UGa to win that game that day and they pulled it out. Don’t mess with tradition as it doesn’t get better than Bama/UT, UGA/Aub and LSU/FL as well as the other games that are always the same Saturday each year.


May 7th, 2009
2:12 pm


Not sure I made any case for what is fair and what is not. I know fairness varies tremendsouly from year to year. My original post was about the fact that the current schedule does not allow a SEC football player to play in every opponent’s stadium. Do you know agree that sucks?


May 7th, 2009
2:14 pm

I would be nice for every recruit to have the opportunity to play at every stadium in the conference during their four year stay.


May 7th, 2009
2:19 pm

Yes Arkansas came in as the SWC was falling and was the first to leave. I didn’t realize Ark. left 3 years before the conf. was dissolved. It certainly hurt the Big 12 IMO.


May 7th, 2009
2:37 pm

Dear Lewis G.:
Q: “Florida vs. LSU, kinda like two mules wrestling over a turnip, WHO CARES?”

A: Since 2006 the winner of the Florida-LSU game has won the national championship. No pressure, then, for quarterback Jordan Jefferson on Oct. 10 at Death Valley.



May 7th, 2009
2:37 pm

This is a bit off topic, but Florida has won 3 National Titles since the advent of the SEC Division format. In that time, Florida’s strength of schedule was the nation’s toughest (in 96 and 06) or the second toughest (08).

Florida, or any other SEC team, does not need a tougher schedule.


May 7th, 2009
3:01 pm

As an LSU fan, I like playing Florida every year… but that is completely besides the point.

Every four year player deserves to have had the chance to play in every SEC stadium. They are owed that at the very least for all they give to this great conference – did you know that Peyton Manning never got the chance to set foot in Tiger Stadium? There are countless other greats who have similar omissions in their SEC resumes and both they and the fans have suffered for it.

Of course fairness and parity should rule the day. Of course we should adopt a 5-3-3 rotating schedule to balance the conference… but as long as the SEC offices are within the borders of the state of Alabama, Auburn and Alabama’s ‘traditional-enough-to-screw-the-rest-of-the-conference-but-not-enough-to-schedule-OOC’ special priviledges will continue.


May 7th, 2009
3:02 pm

I think that recruits to an SEC school sign with the school not with the SEC. Now I admit I never played SEC football. But reading Jeff Owens blog makes it sound like the players get more fired up playing in front of the home crowd than playing in a hostile stadium. Where are the statistics that prove that an overwhelming majority of football players at SEC schools are distraught that they never got to play in every SEC stadium?

Take away UGA vs Auburn, sacrilege.


May 7th, 2009
3:09 pm

This year LSU plays Florida AND Georgia in the very top-heavy SEC East… our competition for the Western division is Alabama and Ole Miss who have to play NEITHER. Oh – and just for kicks, we play those two on the road as well. If we win the title this year, we will have certainly earned it.


May 7th, 2009
3:09 pm

Drew-G-A and Dorsey Hill: Joe posed a legitimate and thought-provoking question. Obviously Tony thought enough of the question to respond in yesterday’s blog and to make it the topic for today. I would suggest you look in your respective mirrors to find the idiots.

Otto, I agree with you to a certain extent on the PAC10 schedule hurting rather than helping. They have seemed to be able to trip each other up over the past few years (see USC more than once…). But I can also understand Commissioner Hansen’s reason for decreeing that the additional game, when the NCAA went to the 12 game season, become the final game of an annual 9 game round-robin amongst the conference members. No more byes on a rotating basis.

As to the topic at hand, keep it the way it is. Traditions really do mean something.


May 7th, 2009
3:11 pm

Clearly the only fans who are supporting keeping these rivalries intact – conference be damned – are those of the schools involved. To them I have a question:

If its important enough for the entire conference to have to schedule around you, is it important enough to schedule the game OOC on the off-years when a more balanced 5-3-3 rotation was implemented?


May 7th, 2009
3:15 pm

As a player I’d rather play in the very special games rather than play in every stadium. People tell stories for decades about the classic matchups. Don’t you want to grow to catch a pass in the corner of the endzone against Auburn in OT if you’re a UGA fan or be a part of a goal line stand against UT if you’re a Bama fan. The game is not perfect but I had rather play in the games I watched as a kid.


May 7th, 2009
3:23 pm

Bottom line: The desires of a third of the conference should not dictate the scheduling of the other two-thirds. Especially when another, perfectly equitable solution presents itself (OOC scheduling).


May 7th, 2009
3:33 pm

Totally agree Tony. Tennessee-Bama and Georgia-Auburn HAVE to happen every year. There would be mass protests otherwise. Nebraska-Oklahoma not playing every year was a huge mistake and has hurt the Huskers program.


May 7th, 2009
3:34 pm

12 National Titles – 21 SEC Titles!!!

TONY – Excellent article

With 12 game schedules coming into play – how about a 5-2-2 format?

UGA could pick up their game with their permanent game with Ole Miss again – then be able to play Bama, Miss STATE – home & home – then rotate LSU and ARk home and home – then back to Bama/MS State.

If you want to play EVERY SEC team in two years:
Rotate Bama and Miss State Home and Home every other year (say even years) and LSU and ARK home and home odd years.

One thing I respect about the Pac 10 – is that they play 9 game conference schedule. A school will play each conference member – every year! Best team wins!!!!

As far as the B10 – they play an 8 game schedule – you could have a team not play Ohio State and Michigan. They have figured out that it is best to have as many CO-CHAMPIONS by not having to play each other and no Title game so they can FEEL good about themselves – WUSSIES!!!!!

As far as tradition – we need GT back in the conference!!!!!! Would love to see AUB/GT – Bama/GT – TN/GT rotate in and out of ATL.


Got 12?

May 7th, 2009
3:41 pm

Bama v. GT is back on the schedule for a home-and-home starting in 2013 in Tuscaloosa.


May 7th, 2009
3:46 pm

The Dawgs have the most conference rivals…I mean REAL RIVALS, on their schedule each year…Auburn, UT, UF, USC, GT. The Auburn game is always an important game, regardless of the records. I hate we had to drop the Ole Miss game. I’d say that both divisions have 3-4 teams that are really good each year, so you get plenty of quality competition. Some years there are surprise teams which add to the difficulty of the schedules. Leave it alone….at least let us hold onto some traditions…no need to be completely structured and regimented.


May 7th, 2009
3:50 pm

“Totally agree Tony. Tennessee-Bama and Georgia-Auburn HAVE to happen every year. There would be mass protests otherwise.”

Any reason why they HAVE to happen at the expense of the other schools in the confernce? Let them schedule one another OOC and let the conference play itself out fairly.

Or is ‘tradition’ not THAT important after all?


May 7th, 2009
4:00 pm

Find me one person who would say ‘who cares’ about the traditional rivalries that have been saved.

dan anders

May 7th, 2009
4:09 pm

When the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 conferences added new members, they should have added another conference game. When the college schedule was expanded to 12 games they should have a second conference game. It just seems 8 conference games are not enough with a 12 game schedule. Kind of like the old NFL, with 6 preseason games and a 12 regular season. Every team in these conferences has at least 2 “mismatches” in their non-conference schedules. And spare us the nonsense about how the SEC is so tough that 10 conference games would be excessive. Think any fans (or players) care to see Utah State, Lousiana-Lafayette or Western Michigan on their schedule?


May 7th, 2009
4:16 pm

First, LSUwiggz…

Let me preface this by saying this blog format is not conducive to fully fleshing out my thoughts (and probably yours also) but I believe playing a conference team and trying to say it is non-conference would create what some of my army buddies call a clusterf*$k… Let me explain, you would have to create a set of rules that spell out what counts as a conference game and what does not, doable, yes, but I believe it’d create unintended consequences. Using your idea let’s think back a few years ago when UGA had it handed to them by TN and lost to SC but we’ll say UGA played Auburn in a “non-conference” game and beat a different West team “in conference” and still finished w/ 2 losses in the SEC East and tied w/ UT for losses “in-conference”.

People complain about UGA fans being whiny (some of it justified I might add…) all hell would break lose under that fact pattern, the rules say it doesn’t count but fans would scream bloody murder and there would be the argument that they won 1 more game than UT. The arguments then would be more bi*chy than this current thread. Yes the rules would state that UT still would be the SEC east representative b/c the AU game was “out-of-conference” but I don’t think the Commissioner would really want to step in that argument…

Also, Jack I am trying to understand your statement about not playing every stadium “sucking” but I have to say I disagree. I’ve had several friends who were recruited by and played for various SEC schools (AU/UF/UGA/Vandy/UA) and not one of them ever cared that they didn’t get to play at a certain stadium. Their only goal was to make it to the SECCG. I think it might suck more for a fan not getting to go to to a certain stadium but I’m not sure that the players feel the same way, but who knows I’ve been wrong before…


May 7th, 2009
4:17 pm

dan – I think a lot of players and fans would care that you’re putting yourself through a thresher week after week if it costs you a shot at a MNC in favor of a team from the Pac 10 or Big 10 which may only have 3 or 4 quality teams in any given year.

It’s a valid and practical concern but if your goal is to to spared nonsense, avoiding college football blogs would be a step in the right direction.

Got 12?

May 7th, 2009
4:40 pm

So we’ve gone from complaining about schedules to bemoaning that fact that every player doesn’t get to play in every stadium? How about the fact that is rainy or cold for some games and not for others. Let’s complain about that too.

Also, did anyone notice that not all players get to play every game! Oh no! For a home game, about 120 players (85 scholarship players + walk ons) dress out but less than 50 actually get to play. Let’s write letters to each coach, AD, school president, conference commissioner, and congressman. These injustices must be addressed immediately!

Saint Simons

May 7th, 2009
4:43 pm

Did troy state start playing in the SEC? everbody in sec plays them!!!


May 7th, 2009
4:45 pm

I don’t wnat the 9 team conf. schedule. 8 games in the SEC is tough plus trying to playing a decent OOC and a game or 2 of easier OOC games to stay healthy.

USC has some much easier teams for their 9 conf. games but those teams going into the season gunning for them. It has cost USC keeping their focus after playing the 9 dwarfs who can make a season with one win over USC. The PAC10 teams may stay healthier if they dropped to 8 games and added a New Mexico St in addition to a strong OOC game.


May 7th, 2009
4:46 pm



May 7th, 2009
4:47 pm

Man, what a hot topic.

Otto, my proposal does not inhibit players from playing in “special” games. Those teams would still be on the schedule. And, who is to say that there would not be a “special” game with a team other than the rival? Are the only “special” SEC games in history b/w UT/Bama and Auburn/GA? Hell no.

LSUWiggZ, dude stop whining. You are giving LSU fans a bad name.

St. Aug Dawg, you are pretty much proving my point. Not sure how you can suggest that my thought of playing in all stadiums is actually for the fans and not suggest that the rivalries are for the fans. The rivalries are very much for the fans. Do you think some kid born in 1990 who plays for UGA give a crap about Lindsay Scott’s catch against UF 30 years ago? Using a rivalry to motivate a player/team is very dangerous – relying too much on emotions will get you beat every time.

Rivalries are definitely for the fans. I know tons of football players and most of them play the game, but aren’t fans of the game. Listen to the quotes about what they do in the off weeks…..most of them try to get away from the game.

Someone mentioned above that Archie Manning played at LSU. I know that was under different circumstances, but that sucks for him and the fans. Just like Tebow is not going to play in some school’s stadium, Stafford will be two b/c he left early (can’t control that).


May 7th, 2009
5:01 pm

Jack even under the Big 12 rotation I don’t think they get to play every team and as said I don’t think it is that great of a concern.

Are Bama/UT and UGA/Auburn the only special games? No

Are they circled on the calendar by many CFB even outside of fans for those 2 schools? Yes.

Was LSU vs Kentucky circled on anyone’s calendar? most likely not and Kentucky beat LSU in OT the same season they won the MNC.

Would the Big 12 get more exposure and money with OU playing Nebraska every year? Most likely

Most of the players want to get out of it on their off day. It is all just about a career for them with alot of pressure. Were the kids fans before they played? Most likely. I am relatively sure David Greene grew up wanting to beat Auburn and UF. Would he trade a win (even 4 wins) aginst UF for playing in another team’s stadium I doubt it.

m wannabe

May 7th, 2009
5:09 pm

Billy Jack:

Where ya been, man?

That one movie in the 70’s and you’ve been MIA since!

m wannabe

May 7th, 2009
5:14 pm

Oh yeah, and the sequel:

“The Trial of Billy Jack”

What a classic!

Sid Hill

May 7th, 2009
5:16 pm

“Joe” must be a Tech geek. Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia are two of the greatest rivalries (and games) in college football. Anyone who would propose to give up either of them doesn’t know his a$$ from a hole in the ground.

LMAO at LSUwiggz

May 7th, 2009
5:20 pm


“Let them schedule one another OOC and let the conference play itself out fairly.”



May 7th, 2009
5:30 pm

Mr. CF–Joe didn’t write nothing. He don’t know how. Your pal, Leland


May 7th, 2009
5:42 pm

Jack, not trying to pile on, but you didn’t answer my question, How would you guarantee a player to get to play in every stadium? What is the scheduling format that would do that?

I’m not judging if that sux or not, or even if they care about it. I’m just asking how.


May 7th, 2009
6:02 pm

ACC gets that way in basketball. Tech has to go to Chapel Hill every other year with no return visit. We get waxed up there pure and simple. We beat them occasionally here but up there they have a circus when we come to town and we are the clowns.

Bo Williams

May 7th, 2009
6:32 pm

I’ve been to most of the large football venues throughout the nation (Shoe, Big House, Beaver, Coliseum, LSU, Washington, Pasadena, Clemson, SC, UGa, Texas, Stanford, and on and on). I had rather watch a game in Kennan Stadium than in any of the others. Sporting News said Kennan (under the pines) was the best place in American to watch a football game. Big don’t mean nothing when it comes to sports venues.


May 7th, 2009
6:35 pm

I love the tradition but hate the fact that Ole Miss and Alabama both miss Florida AND Georgia this year unless one of them make it to the SECCG. That is a HUGE advantage over my beloved Bayou Bengals for the West title. But, hey, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, so it is all good. Also, proof is in the pudding that the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt come BCS selection time. These big time matchups are part of the reason.


May 7th, 2009
6:42 pm

Joe is a moron…I can’t stand that the AJC lets duplicate usernames run on here. I’m the original joe (an SEC alumus) and the fake one who drummed up this topic and obviously knows nothing about good football should be banned. Keep the rivalries intact as that is another reason SEC football is the best variety around. If you disagree with that, your team must play in the almost competitive conference.


May 7th, 2009
7:26 pm

Its seems like Mr. College Football should change his name to Mr SEC Football. Just a thought

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
8:22 pm

LSU fans,

Quit complaining about having to play UGA and UF in the same year. We just got through playing those 2 the last 4 years and we have UT as our regular rival and in most years UT has been a strong conference power. It all evens out over the long haul.

And LSUwiggz,

where did you come up with this idea that every sec player deserves to play in every sec stadium and that they are “owed” this opportunity. Is this part of the rights explosion we see in society where someone like you just arbitrarily decides someone is owed something and deserves something just cause you think it should be so? As a Bama fan do you think our players are “owed” the right to play in Vandy or Kentucky’s stadium before they leave? I can assure you they probably don’t care and if they are going to be given the right to deserve to play somewhere they will choose the Rose Bowl as opposed to Vandy stadium. Do you think Dawg fans feel they are owed the misery of spending a weekend in Starkville, MS? Having been there I can tell you UF and UGA fans better hope they never get this deserved right to play in Starkville.


May 7th, 2009
8:35 pm

the SEC needs to paly an additional game which would resolve a lot of the problem and we’d have one less high school game to attend in Athens.

War Eagle

May 7th, 2009
8:43 pm

Tradition games is SEC football. Do we need to think about changing the SEC or improve on what SEC is doing now?
Tony , are you leaning left or do I read your blog wrong?
SEC fans, who would you rather see play on a Fall PM, UGA vs Auburn or UGA vs Bama?


May 7th, 2009
9:04 pm

Bruce, you said UGA needs to get GT out of the way early or else its just a “distraction” or “consolation”? I venture to say with CPJ and the Flexbone, it will be a little more important to the arrogant doggies. I also would bet, straight up, that CPJ wins more than he loses to UGA in his GT coaching career, however long it lasts. No more playing down the GT game, save for ignorant doggie fans. The real fans are and will be worried every time they play a CPJ coached Yellow Jacket team.

There, no more distraction or consolation, problem solved, get ready for the game or most certainly lose, pretty simple.


May 7th, 2009
9:47 pm

I think UF has the easiest schedule in the SEC this year. Their out of conference schedule is laughable.


May 7th, 2009
10:03 pm

Add a 9th Conference game, with either 2 permanent opponents and 2 rotating on and off or 1 permanent opponent and 3 rotating on and off. This will still leave room for 2 should be guarantied wins and one maybe.


May 7th, 2009
10:25 pm

To keep it simple..the schedule is FINE AS IS.

Boss Hogg

May 7th, 2009
10:44 pm

Tony: You are so right about “Third Saturday in October”. Al Browning gets great insight from the players of the past that played in the game. These permanent opponents that each team has had legendary games over the years.