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

Lewis Grizzard

May 7th, 2009
8:35 am

Florida vs. LSU, kinda like two mules wrestling over a turnip, WHO CARES?

Dorsey Hill

May 7th, 2009
8:40 am

Joe is an idiot. I liked the 2 permanent with one rotator format even better. We lost uf v. Auburn, and UGA v ole miss when they went to the new format.

Mikey

May 7th, 2009
8:41 am

Leave the schedule as is.
The border wars are awesome.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
8:41 am

It should stay the way it is!!! Why change it when the SEC has 3 of the last 4 NC…. For ANY fan that says the SEC has weak OOC schedules, think about this. Every school boosts there OOC schedule by playing 1 SEC team. SEC teams play 8 SEC teams. Bama/UT AU/UGA FL/LSU should be played every year, those are the 3 outside of every Bama game that are must see for me. If it’s not broke DON’T FIX IT!!!!

GeoffDawg

May 7th, 2009
8:48 am

I think Joe’s clearly in the minority on this one. Even if you took away the obvious such as the money and tv exposure that naturally follows these matchups, the fans of the respective schools are going to scream if you tinker with their valued rivalries. As a Georgia fan, playing Auburn every year towards the end of the season is as much a part of my annual routine as Thanksgiving or Halloween. Besides, if you truly wanted balance over tradition, you would have to support rotating divisional alignments as well. Throughout the 90’s when Florida and Tennessee were clearly the top two teams in the conference, we still would’ve had a much tougher conference lineup than anybody out west regardless if we were scheduled to play Auburn or Miss St.

The point is that it’s never going to be completely balanced unless you know for a certainty how good some school’s going to be year in and year out. After 2007, who would’ve known how good Alabama and Ole Miss were going to be? That’s part of the fun and what makes the debate about college football so lively and addictive.

Mark

May 7th, 2009
8:51 am

There is no question that the traditional games must be kept in place. College football and SEC football in particular is about tradition. If you prefer your game on Saturday you know this. If you prefer your game on Sunday you might think differently. However, those of us that can recall the exact spot where we watched Tony Flack fly up and horse collar Bo behind the line; or CMB heave one to the goal line with one second left; or Micheal Johnson give the defender a slight shove and go up and break the drought; would be lost without the Dawgs and Tigers each November. You might as well move Christmas to a every four year schedule.

Dink

May 7th, 2009
8:52 am

I agree Tony, the traditions are what makes college football so special. Not a Tech or AU fan but that was also a great rivalry game that I wish would continue, even though it’s a non-conference game.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
9:06 am

GeoffDawg,

I agree with FLA in the 90’s But Bama won just as many NC as UT and Fla. UT only had 2 SECC and played in two SECCG , Bama played in FIVE SECCG and won TWO SECC!!!! Clearly UT was much better!!!!

Call 'em like I see 'em

May 7th, 2009
9:10 am

Saint Nick, you’re smoking something on the OOC thing. The *PAC 10* boosts their schedules by playing an extra conference game. Everyone else plays 8. Teams should have either 1 marquee matchup (LSU-Va Tech for example) or at least 2 BCS quality teams (Oregon St, TCU). No more “3 Sun Belts and a 1-AA, please”.

Bill

May 7th, 2009
9:10 am

It is why the SEC is so powerful. The rivalries keep the pressure on the conference to be the best. I love to hate UT and it would just become another game if we rotated. My UT friends would agree with me whole heartedly.

Roll Tide

KY Tiger

May 7th, 2009
9:12 am

I think they should add a 9th conference game as opposed to each team playing 1 or 2 1-AA schools each year etc. Some of these OOC schedules are a joke. The added 9th game would improve exposure via TV etc. more so than some of these weak games.

Otto

May 7th, 2009
9:13 am

I agree with Dorsey bring the back 2 team format.

GeoffDawg I would argue the Auburn game is more important than Halloween.

Dean

May 7th, 2009
9:16 am

Saint Nick,
UT was out of luck because Florida was in the same conference. It was much more difficult to win the East than the West. Not taking away anything from the 91 Bama team (one of the greatest) or the 99 team but overall I think any nonbiased SEC fan would say UF and UT were the two consistently strongest SEC members throughout the 90’s. I hate them both but what real is real.

Stanger

May 7th, 2009
9:20 am

Tradition? Ole Tony is all abot tradition today. But what about the comments of wanting a playoff? I like the tradition of NO PLAYOFF. Just like Jim Mora Sr. said. Playoff(s)? Playoff(s)? You talking about playoff(s)?

SoCal Dawg

May 7th, 2009
9:20 am

Thanks Tony. Excellent analysis.

One thing I have learned in life is that if you try to please everybody, you usually don’t please anybody. The current system is about as good (and fair) as it gets. Tradition is a wonderful thing as long as it makes sense…and most of these continue to do so.

I respect Joe’s motive for leveling the playing field but Tradition is something that needs to be preserved…because that is what made the SEC what it has become.

bigdawg01

May 7th, 2009
9:27 am

Leave it alone. How many of you love to see the great double headers on Saturday? UGA/AU, AL/TN, LSU/FL in addition to divisional rivalries. Those are the games that MAKE this conference what it is and turn those slighty cool afternoons and evenings into calendar marking holidays. I get excited just thinking about it.

How would you feel if you did not have it? You would miss it. Think of all the other conferences that dont come close to our traditions in the south and the SEC.

GeoffDawg

May 7th, 2009
9:29 am

Agree with you Dean – Bama had some good teams in the 90’s but after Stallings left, they just didn’t play at the same level. UT was much more consistent with fielding quality teams every year. The fact that they were able to go to the SECCG five times but only won two demonstrates the fact that East in the 90’s was better top to bottom. Beyond that, I’d have to look it up to verify, but I don’t think any of the other teams from the west were able to win the SEC during that time period either.

Preston

May 7th, 2009
9:31 am

Could you imagine a season without playing Auburn? Leave it alone. Alabama and Tennessee has become a big rivalry over the years too. I’d hate to see that come to an end as well.

GeoffDawg

May 7th, 2009
9:36 am

You’ve got a point Otto. Growing up and through college, I usually associated certain holidays and time periods with the football schedule. I always remember that Florida is around Halloween, tech is around Thanksgiving, and Auburn is usually around when the weather starts to turn cold.

MtnBama

May 7th, 2009
9:36 am

Why not eliminate the Division model altogether and everyone play a full SEC schedule and simply declare the winner to be the NC ?

m

May 7th, 2009
9:44 am

The Acc was stupid when it set up the Coastal and Atlantic divisions. If was based on the bullshiite idea that FSU and Miami were going to win their divisions every year. A total croc.

You can’t find anyone other than hard core ACC fans that can even tell you who is in which division.

It should have been set up as North and South. That way Miami, Fsu, Ga. Tech, Clemson, North Carolin, and Duke would have been in the South and Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State would have been in the North.

That would make divisions that anyone would understand. The decision to make the divisions based on who the league (wrongly) perceived as the strong teams at the time was a dumbarse decision.

No one can make sense out of the divisions as they are now. They need to be changed to a more geographic alignment and not based on the idiocy of FSU and Miami winning it every year (total bullshiite).

The ACC is very strong top to bottom. They have not had the one good team like the sec has in floriduh, but it is much stronger and more competive top to bottom than the sec was last year. The bottom 6 in the sec were truly pathetic last year…whereas the last place team in the ACC (dook) beat an sec bowl team (Vandy). And overall the ACC and sec went 6-6. The ACC was the first conference in history to put 10 teams in bowl games.

Preston

May 7th, 2009
9:45 am

In regards to the SEC teams’ OOC schedules, please laugh at fans of other conferences when they say that SEC teams play weak teams OOC. They wouldn’t know what it’s like to play 7 SEC teams a year. Pac 10, Big 10, and even Big 12 fans need to think before they speak.

Preston

May 7th, 2009
9:46 am

MtbBama, I already do!

Valdosta Tiger

May 7th, 2009
9:47 am

Leave it alone – don’t mess a good thing up!!!

Preston

May 7th, 2009
9:48 am

m, your alignment scenario made sense. But it’s the ACC…who cares?

Otto

May 7th, 2009
9:50 am

Geoff I was thinking the same thing. People asked me what did I go to any parties and did what did dress up as for Halloween? My usual response was Yes and a Georgia fan. You get a strange look, then I would tell them as I was in Jax or watching the game somewhere else.

Bama/UT, UGA/Auburn, and LSU/UF are always must see TV as well as UF/Auburn when they play.

Otto

May 7th, 2009
9:53 am

m It is the ACC everyone is just above average and you don’t take the beating of the SEC. When everyone was healed up and close to equal teams played in the bowls the ACC did not staand a chance.

JB

May 7th, 2009
10:01 am

We really need to ask Obama if the current system is fair. There are a lot of disenfranchised football fans out there ( like ACC watching all games at Saturday noon). Are all the SEC getting their fair share of a rivalry. How about people who can’t afford tickets…or never had the ” privilege ” of going to college and becoming a fan. Lot’s of questions here today…..Do we need to tax this privilege ? What about high School drop outs who have to work at fast food places on Saturday and can’t watch the games ? Are we taking advantage of African Americans while cheering them on to play and only giving them a college education for it while the University makes millions. Change is coming.

Snooze

May 7th, 2009
10:01 am

Did m mention the ACC? Snooze. Time to go back to sleep.

Gatorzone

May 7th, 2009
10:01 am

Lewis, I know UF vs. LSU is boring to you but since 4 of the last 9 national championships have been won by them some people may find it interesting.

m

May 7th, 2009
10:05 am

the sec is a bullshiite overhyped conference. The sec does have one or two decent teams…but the rest of the conference sucks.

The mighty sec went 6-6 with the lowly acc….that should put your bullshiite hype to rest.

The mighty sec west champions alabammer got their arses handed to them by a little ole mountain west team utah….that should put you bullshiite hype to rest.

The reason the sec plays such a weak non conference schedule is because every time they play someone decent out of conference they get their arses handed to them. Like last year…..a pitiful ucla team beats might tenn-uh-C and then gets stomped by BYU 59-0 the next week. Also pifitul wyoming comes into knoxville and beats the crap out of tenn-uh-c. floriduh gets there arses handed to them by ole miss….a team that had lost to wake forest the week before. Ugag the #1 team in the history of the world last year gets their arses handed to them by a lowly ga tech team running a high school offense…and on and on.

The sec is the most bullshiite overhyped conference in history.

moultrieboy

May 7th, 2009
10:06 am

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Bruce

May 7th, 2009
10:08 am

The only change that needs to be madae is in UGAs schedule. They need to play Tech on the third Saturday of September and get it out of the way. Like it is now, it’s a distraction before playing for the SEC Crown, or a disappointing consolation game. I think Dawgs would be better served playing the conference schedule from start to finish.

GeoffDawg

May 7th, 2009
10:09 am

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

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
10:12 am

m,

What was the ACC bowl record 4-5? Even though my boys got Utah’d what was the sec bowl record 6-2? And the sec was 7-2 last year and has won 4 of the last 9 bcs titles. Overhyped? Not according the facts.

JB

May 7th, 2009
10:13 am

m, you are very alone with that argument…..don’t see many prime time national TV shown games at 3:30 on CBS. It’s 90% SEC……look at TV ratings of ACC vs SEC. You will be enlightened. Bottom line, The NATION doesn’t watch Duke vs Wake, They watch Bama/LSU, Ga/ FLA. , TENN/ FLA etc.
ACC is a yawner.

rocksteadyfreddie

May 7th, 2009
10:18 am

I want the 5-2-1 back. UF Auburn was a great game. I’d rather have Auburn every year than Arky or the Ms schools.

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
10:18 am

I can’t imagine an Auburn or dawg fan willing to give up the south’s oldest rivalry and likewise I don’t know one Bama or UT fan that would want to give up the Bama-UT series. Even if you are not a fan of any of these 4 teams these are historically close, competitive series. I think the Auburn-UGA series is so tight that Auburn leads something like 45-43 although I’m not really sure. I just know its close. Same thing with Bama-UT. We lead a very close series something like 46-38.

Kid Ray

May 7th, 2009
10:22 am

SEC fans wake up! Take it from a college football fan who lives in the Northeast. KEEP YOUR TRADITION. PERIOD!
thats what makes the sec the SEC.

JB

May 7th, 2009
10:26 am

Oh come on kid ray, There’s nothing like walking up to the Duke/ Wake game ticket window 20 minutes before kick off, buying a ticket ( $12.00) and try to order some eggs inside ( it is 11:00 Am you know) and scream you head off with the other 28,000 football fans….

GeoffDawg

May 7th, 2009
10:32 am

There was a time recently when the Georgia – Auburn rivalry was so close that I believe Auburn was one game up in the won/loss column but Georgia was up by something like 5 in the all time total points scored. That my friends, is an extremely competitive series.

Bub

May 7th, 2009
10:32 am

Tony, does your e-mail address (tbarnhart@ajc.com) not work anymore? Do you have a new one? Thanks.

UT96

May 7th, 2009
10:33 am

The only fair thing to do is for every SEC team to play every other SEC team. Keep the divisions and the conference championship game. Conference games are much better than playing out of conference opponents, IMO.

Bamafan

May 7th, 2009
10:35 am

Playing and beating UcheaT is like winning the lottery to me!! Don’t mess with the schedule!!
GO BAMA ROLL TIDE!!

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
10:36 am

The other great thing about the current format as Tony mentioned is more marquee interdivisional matchups between the big 6 in the 2 divisions. For example from a Bama perspective playing UGA or Florida only 2 out of every 10 years is way too few times. 4 out of 10 is much better. These are games the fans want to see and I’m certain the dawg fans would agree and would much rather play us and LSU 4 out of 10 years as opposed to only twice a decade. Florida and Auburn may have lost their annual series but at least they still get to play 4 out of 10 years.

Saint Nick

May 7th, 2009
10:36 am

Your arguement about Tenn being better than Bama in the 90’s is ridiqulous. 4-5-1. That is not dominating anyone.

Tide rising

May 7th, 2009
10:38 am

JB,

Aren’t you being a little generous when you state that 28,000 fans would show up for a Duke-Wake game? I

Smile when you say that

May 7th, 2009
10:40 am

Preston, give it a rest with the “7 SEC teams” garbage (PS, you play 8 conference games). Every conference is tough. Granted, teams that get 4-5 of the big 6 have a rough year, but La-Monroe, Kentucky and Vanderbilt IN MOST YEARS is not a tougher slate than Eastern Michigan, Kansas St, and Nebraska as an example, or Fresno St, Cal and Arizona. Congrats to Georgia for pulling a top notch OOC this year. Don’t make it a one time deal.

Georgia Gator

May 7th, 2009
10:43 am

Hey Lewis Grizzard:

The UF/LSU game may well decide the SEC champion this year.

Sorry you will miss it.

Miles

May 7th, 2009
10:49 am

Mr. Barnhart, you broke with tradition when you criticized your fellow Republicans, Orrin Hatch and Joe Barton. As for the SEC schedule, it’s fine as it is.