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:
Arkansas: South Carolina
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.