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
10:46 pm

Joe is an idiot, along with the Big 12. Keep the scheduling the way it is. Those rivalries are what make the SEC so great.


May 7th, 2009
10:54 pm

ain’t a darn thing wrong with the way it is.. don’t mess with it.

SEC rules and others drool!


May 7th, 2009
11:16 pm

Tony, love your blog but sorry that you are flat wrong on one thing. The oldest continuous rivalry in the South is UVa versus UNC. Two of the finest public institutions in the world I might add.

Gen Neyland

May 7th, 2009
11:23 pm

TB : You have Mama Cox’s ear, so tell her we’re waiting for Chip Towers return. Love you like a brother, but we need the Chip slant..thx

Gator Nation

May 7th, 2009
11:37 pm

Keep the schedule the way it is. The heavy weight battles between the SEC elite programs are what propels them to national prominence, BCS bids and BCS championship games. Its a mini playoff within the league with a chance at a rematch in the SEC championship game, though I don’t think that has ever happened.

Which, now that I think about it is pretty amazing. Has the regular season match ups of Georgia/Auburn, Florida/LSU, or Bama/Tennessee ever been played for the SEC championship game? I don’t think it has.

Dustin Sadler

May 7th, 2009
11:37 pm

I’m a traditionalist, and I like it the way it is. But there’s no point in even discussing this because you’ll never see a year without an Alabama-Tennessee game or an Auburn-Georgia game. Alabama and Tennessee, and Auburn and Georgia, have played every year since 1928 and 1918, respectively, with the exception of 1943 because of WWII. I love the Auburn-Georgia rivalry; it’s got so much history and tradition behind it, being the Deep South’s oldest rivalry, and I would hate to go a year without seeing them play each other. I know this process isn’t totally fair, but that’s college football for you! It’s a lot better than it used to be, with two permanents, since Auburn used to have to play Florida every year too!

Haywood Jablowme

May 8th, 2009
12:43 am

Leave the schedule as it is, keep the traditions alive, and tell Joe to go blow himself.


May 8th, 2009
12:51 am

Titus…..If Tony is wrong, every other media person who proclaims UGA/AU as the oldest continuous rivalry in the South must be, too, right? In short, who gives a rat’s a$$ about UVA and UNC????? It’s about like watching paint dry, unless you are talking about basketball, and most people I know don’t even consider either one of those states to even be IN the South.


May 8th, 2009
1:06 am

Tony, abso-damn-lutely not! I couldn’t care less about Alabama vs. Tennessee. That game hasn’t meant much in the last 50 years. But The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is the best, most exciting, most competitive, closest rivalry in the SEC. I would sooner move the WLOCP party out of Jax before losing the Auburn game. I would sooner drop GT from the schedule than lose the Auburn game. UGA vs. Auburn is what everything good about college football is all about.

SoCal Dawg

May 8th, 2009
2:25 am

Who is this new socal dawg postring under my name?


May 8th, 2009
7:06 am

If what you want to do is play each SEC school on a rotateing basis then I suggest we require each school to provide at least an 85000 seat stadium if they don`t complie within 5 years we should move on as this would do more to raise our revenue`s and make the SEC more equal and fair for all the schools that wish to remain.


May 8th, 2009
7:07 am

Enter your comments here


May 8th, 2009
8:06 am

I have been watching the Georgia vs Auburn since I was four years old! It not only is the south’s greatest rivilry, But it is the most classic traditon in all the S.E.C. To get rid of this game would be a dishonor to all those who have played in it before…And those who dream of playing in the future!


May 8th, 2009
8:19 am

Try telling the AD directors at UT and Bama the tradition is over. Seems Joe is in left field with a catchers mit. Yes, both schools dislike each other, but that’s what tradition in the sports world is all about. This would be like telling Boston fans we are not paying the yankees anymore.


May 8th, 2009
8:56 am


Yeah, that Florida-LSU game is nothing to take any note of…other than the fact that the 2 teams hve combined to win the last 3 national championships.

Gator Mike

May 8th, 2009
9:09 am

As a Gator, I am in favor of keeping the SEC Tradition. I note that Mr. m and some other ACC notables have chimed in on tis blog concerning the SEC. It simply is noNe of their business and none of us SEC Fans care what they think about SEC tradition. The only tradition in the ACC is basketball. I side with all of the Dawgs, Vols, LSU, AU and BAMA folks on this one. If I had my way, I would rather go back to the old system of UF playing LSU and AU every year. SoCar and ARK are still upstarts in this discussion. Although I am a Gator, I have always looked forward to the UGA-AU and UT-BAMA games because they are usually very good, and they reflect the very best of SEC rivalries. We simply do not care what the ACC, Little Ten, Big 12 or PAC TEn fans think. They have great traditions, but none of them interest me except the TX-OU Game which has always been interesting. As for the Michigan – Ohio State Game, I will always watch an SEC Game regardles of which SEC Teams are playing. I am proud to be an SEC first fan. Until the ACC develops some real football tradition games, their fans need to stay out of our business. In the SEC, we enjoy beating the H### out of each other, and we are just as vehement in supporting each other when someone from the outside bites at our heels.


Denver Dog

May 8th, 2009
10:01 am

I’d say just leave it alone, it must be working becuase 3 of the last 5 MNC’s came from the SEC. The only thing that you could do different is to drop the natural rivalry and then you would play every team, one more time in the 10 years. Looks like it is working pretty good to me.


May 8th, 2009
10:02 am

Otto, under the Big 12 rotation, they most certainly do play in every stadium during their career.

Otto, once again, proving my point. There are plenty of big games in the SEC that are not tied to a rivarly. The LSU/UK game is one of many examples. And, games like the LSU/UK game are occuring every year without the two participants in those great games being the one constant on the schedule.

All SEC fans, does anyone give a crap about Kennan Stadium? Is that were UNC’s basketball team practices?

Altamaha Dog, I guess I should have been more clear. Each player has to put themself in position to make the travel squad and see the field. All the SEC and schools can do is set the schedule such that each team plays at each SEC opponent once every 4 years.

Tide Rising, you are an idiot. Everyone in the SEC, other than Bama fans, knows that your only decent showing in the last 10 years required LSU, UT, and AU having thier worse seasons since sometime around the death of the Bear. Yes, he is still dead.

And, playing UGA and Florida the last 4 years is not like playing them in the same year – not to mention, how did you fare against them other than UGA last year? Crickets chirping


May 8th, 2009
10:03 am

In most conferences, schools have 1, at best 2 rival opponents that everyone gets excited about. Ohio St v Mich is really their only major rival, although Mich has Mich St & ND(not in the big 10) which is an exception not the rule in the Big 10. Okl has Texas and in years past Neb. USC has UCLA & ND (which isn’t even in their conference). The average SEC team has 3-4 within the conference and in some cases a major non-conference rival as well.
Here are just 3 examples, but you can find the same with just about every SEC team:

UGA- UF, Tenn, AU, GT(non conf)
UF- UGA, LSU, Tenn, FSU (non conf)
Tenn- UGA, UF, Bama

If you ask fans of any of those 3 teams which is the one MUST win game out of the ones listed you’ll likely get a different answer depending on who you ask. There are no easy wins in the SEC. Teams have to bring their A-game EVERY week. Anyone who doesn’t see that is just blind. In most years you can count on UGA, UF, Tenn, Bama, Aub, & LSU to be ranked in the top 25 & at least 3 of those teams hanging in the top 15 if not top 10. Granted Tenn and AU are down right now but most years that’s the case. Name another conference that CONSISTENTLY year in and year out has 5-6 teams ranked in the top 25. Also, the SEC has more NFL players than any other conference.

Top 25 all time winningest teams broken down by conference:
1. SEC – 6 teams
2. Big 12 -5 teams
3. Big East – 4 teams
4. Big 10 – 3 teams
5. Independent/Mid Majors – 3 teams (ND, Miami,OH & Army)
6. PAC-10 – 2 teams

Now the Big 10 does beat the SEC in total National Championships 27-25, but with the current state of college football, I think it’s a safe bet the SEC will at least tie if not surpase that mark within the next 5 yrs.
These are FACTS! The SEC is hands down the dominant conference in college football. The sooner all you SEC haters just accept it the better off we’ll all be!
GO SEC !!!

Bo Williams

May 8th, 2009
10:16 am

Jack, appears that you want to dominate the exchange with your prattle, preferring to bash anyone else who has something to say. What is really bothering you Jack?


May 8th, 2009
10:44 am

to m, do you know that last year’s loss to GT is the first Georgia loss to ACC team in 8 years, under Richt Georgia has 11-1 record against ACC teams, Georgia beat FSU, Clemson, VT and of course the domination over GT..go figure


May 8th, 2009
10:53 am

The SEC has some of the lamest schedules in college football. The out of conference games are pathetic, yet the SEC (and it’s fans) are so full of themselves that they will simply dismiss anything and anyone that says something against them.

I’m just proud they knew where the library was, so they could get online and read this(also surprised that they can read).

K-Town Dawg

May 8th, 2009
12:05 pm


Let me guess….you must be a Tech fan?

K-Town Dawg

May 8th, 2009
12:19 pm

Curiously, while the UVA / UNC game calls itself the “South’s Oldest Rivalry” the UGA / AU game is actually older.

UVA / UNC – 113 games, first game Oct. 22, 1892
UGA/ AU – 112 games, first game Feb. 20, 1892


May 8th, 2009
1:34 pm

Nothing bothering me. Everyone comment I made, other than the Bama comment, was a direct response to questions posed directly to me. Read the board Bo!

Jim Corley

May 11th, 2009
11:50 am

I vote for the balanced scheduled.

I’ve seen the Gators play in all twelve SEC stadiums and it took eight years under the original East/West schedule.

I think every player and student should have the opportunity to play every conference opponent home and away over a four year period.


May 13th, 2009
1:05 pm

As an Auburn fan the obvious answer is to keep tradition. The AU v UGA game is the oldest rivalry in the south. At the same time you have a team like LSU who has to play UF every single year and that really isn’t that long standing of a rivalry. If you were to put yourself in the shoes of an SEC head coach whose ultimate goal is to win the SEC and play for a national title you would likely prefer balance over tradition.

War Eagle!

May 18th, 2009
11:01 am

I think we should play more conference games, maybe 9 or 10. This would get rid of the light weight non-conference schedules most teams play, reduce the inequity in schedules, and possibly allow all teams in opposite divisions to rotate (with a 10 conference game schedule, Auburn and Georgia would play 10 out of 12 years).


June 5th, 2009
12:22 pm

If you ask any Vol fan born before 1985 Tennessee vs Alabama is the game circled each year. I remember thinking when they went to two divisions: ” What am I going to do on the third Saturday in October.” I hate Alabama, yet also respect the tradition. I just hate Florida and everything about them. Their lack of tradition and class is what Florida is all about. Go Vols!!!!!