Note: This blog originally was posted Saturday before the SEC decided on Sunday to stick with an eight-game schedule and permanent cross-division rivals (See update below). At the time of the original posting, there was the possibility of adding a ninth conference game, and the question of how best to protect permanent cross-division rivalries like Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee was on the minds of a number of readers. Here’s the discussion in this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Emory Breed writes: My solution is to move Bama and Auburn to the EAST and move Mizzou and Vandy to the WEST … Problem solved. Then the Bama-Tennessee and Georgia–Auburn rivalries are no longer cross rivalries and LSU can dump the Gators if we do away with the cross-division. Simple.
Southern Dawg has a similar proposal. He writes: Realignment is the easiest way to keep the traditional rivalries that count. The conference simply needs to move Missouri and SEC East weak sister Kentucky to the SEC West (where Mizzou geographically and historically belonged in the first place), and switch Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East. That way Georgia and Auburn would play every year, likewise Alabama and Tennessee, and the Iron Bowl would be preserved, and yet you could dump the required cross-division rivalries and thus get Les Miles to shut up about not wanting to play the Gators. What do you think, Bill?
You guys have an intriguing idea there that I doubt will be given serious consideration, mainly because it would set up the SEC East as a muderer’s row — with Bama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina and, oh yeah, Vandy or Kentucky — that would be almost impossible to negotiate without a couple of losses. Your SEC West would be pretty competitive, too, with LSU, Texas A&M and Missouri probably dominating the two Mississippi schools, Arkansas and Vandy or Kentucky. I suppose the one thing that could be argued would be that an SEC champion that emerged from the East, even with a couple of losses, would have won the toughest division in football, which might count some with the College Football Playoff selection committee. However, I think adding a ninth conference game and maintaining the cross-division rivalries would accomplish the same thing with a lot less disruption.
Meanwhile, we have a couple of readers on opposite sides of the issue of maintaining the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Robb writes: If we lose the Auburn game, I may very well give up my season tickets. Not sure it’ll convince anybody of anything, but without that game to look forward to, and [having to pay] for more cupcakes, I’d rather just pay for the games I want to go to on StubHub.
On the other hand, Iron Mike writes: I don’t quite “get” the hold that the Georgia-Auburn rivalry has on you and other Bulldog fans. OK, I understand that it’s the South’s oldest football rivalry. But, so what? Harvard-Yale is a great, historic rivalry and nobody outside the Ivy League even pays attention any more. I realize college football is a bit more tradition-bound than most sports, but times change. Keeping in-state rivalries going, I understand. The Iron Bowl. Florida-FSU. Even Georgia-Georgia Tech. But if Georgia and Auburn don’t play every year, what exactly do we lose?
Iron, I think we would lose what makes college football great: Tradition. Plus, Georgia and Auburn are natural rivals, even though they’re (barely) not in the same state. The two schools share a lot of ties and have intermingled for years. The games are usually pretty hotly contested — and for years were played in neutral Columbus — and frequently the game has resulted in one of the teams clinching an SEC title or the chance to play for one, or ruining the other team’s chance at doing so. Both programs are very similar in history and tradition and they’re only a couple hours from each other and recruit heavily against each other. The rivalry also produced one of the great college football photos — the 1996 shot of mascot Uga V going after Auburn receiver Robert Baker in one of the greatest games in series history, an overtime win for Georgia. Vince Dooley, who played and coached at Auburn before becoming a four-decade fixture at UGA, summed up the Georgia-Auburn rivalry as “feuding cousins.” Pat Dye, who played at Georgia and later became the head coach and athletics director at AU, said the rivalry between the two schools is “a unique thing. It’s like playing against your brother.” Yeah, there has been the occasional ugly turn in the relationship — mainly as a result of things like fire hoses and cheap-shot tackles by the likes of Nick Fairley — but both schools’ coaches and leaders and, from what I can tell, both fan bases consider Georgia-Auburn a rivalry worth preserving.
Pattie Sisson writes: Bill, I understand the arguments in favor of adding a ninth game to the SEC schedule — better inventory for ESPN and the SEC Network, better strength-of-schedule rating, easier to save the traditional rivalries like Georgia vs. Auburn and Alabama vs. Tennessee. But I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the major downside: Every other year, you’d have one less conference home game, playing only four, and have to play five conference road games. A home game season ticket in Athens that only included four SEC teams would, I think, become a much tougher sell, especially if the four-SEC-game years coincided with the Tech game being in Atlanta. And the problem would be worse for Georgia and Florida than for the other conference teams, because they both have that neutral-site game in Jacksonville every year. Of course, there’s an obvious solution to that: Move Georgia-Florida to home and home, or perhaps into some sort of rotation where it alternates between Athens, Gainesville and Jacksonville. How about that?
I’ve heard that argument before, Pattie, and while I don’t think there’s any strong sentiment among athletics officials at either UGA or UF to move the game out of Jacksonville now, a few years of doing without a home game might change that. Still, it would be a shame to see Georgia-Florida become just another conference game (albeit always an important one), perhaps without a guaranteed national TV audience. Take the game out of Jacksonville and it no longer would be one of college football’s marquee events alongside the recently rebranded Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas.
Also on the subject of permanent cross-division rivals in the SEC, John Paul Mason is amused by LSU coach Les Miles’ contention that it isn’t “equitable” for the Tigers to face Florida every year while Alabama only has to play Tennesee. He writes: I know Les talks like a Yankee, but someone in Baton Rouge should clue him in to SEC football history before he opens his mouth again an embarrasses himself and the school on this subject. Yeah, Bama might have dominated the Vols in recent years, but Tennessee historically has been a conference power and has the second-most SEC championships after Alabama, followed by Georgia, LSU and then Florida. Also, while Boom is in Gainesville the Gators don’t exactly look like a program that should have Les quaking in his hat.
Good point, JP. Tennessee may have lost seven straight to the Crimson Tide, but everything in college football tends to be cyclical, and one of these days the folks in Knoxville are going to get it all together again.
Steve Upshaw picked up on something I said in last week’s Junkyard Mail, when I noted that one of the difficulties in going to a nine-game conference schedule for teams like Georgia that have a major-college nonconference rival on the schedule every year is that it only leaves room for a couple of easy games. He writes: How many “easy” games do you want? Walking back to my car after a victory over North Texas State or Eastern/Northern/Western Michigan and listening to all the horn-honkers yell and scream “How bout them Dawgs?” simply shows how shallow they are and/or ignorant of the real fact that we are not a college football power. We are nothing, repeat, nothing more than a decent-to-good regional football program. Also, Bill, to consider Tech a major-college nonconference rival (annually) is a big stretch. We need to accept who we are. We have already reached our highest point with Mark Richt. If not for [Bobby] Petrino, we’d still be stuck with [Todd] Grantham because Richt believes “continuity is good.” That isn’t leadership. … As a proud two-time graduate and season ticket holder for over 30 years, I’m sick to death of the crappy schedule [Greg] McGarity, you and others are pushing. We have attended every home UGA game for many years, and we rarely even miss road games. My wife and me LOVE the Dogs today. We will love the Dogs tomorrow and all our days because we love The University of Georgia, not just the football program.
OK, Steve, I don’t mind taking shots at Tech about its football program. I’ve been known to do it occasionally (ahem) myself. But they do play in one of the five major conferences and definitely qualify as a major opponent. The games can be a challenge, too, or don’t you remember the comeback Hutson Mason had to lead last fall? Also, I don’t recall ever in any way advocating packing the schedule with inferior opponents. You do note that I call them “cupcakes,” right? And I’ve discussed at length the effect those games have on attendance (especially the students) and stadium atmosphere. But it’s a fact of life that most major programs (and I disagree with you and maintain that Georgia is indeed a major program) play two or three cupcakes each season. Some play four. Even Alabama (you do consider them major, right?), which Georgia came close to beating in the SEC Championship, has Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina on its schedule this year. These games aren’t just added to teams’ schedules to get an easy win, either. The advantage to them is that you usually don’t have to sign a home-and-home deal, and home games make more money. So, yes, I’ve discussed how I can see both sides of the eight-games vs. nine-games debate, but if you read what I wrote this week, I think it’s abundantly clear I have come down on the nine-game side.
SUNDAY UPDATE: The SEC announced Sunday it will continue an eight-game league football schedule and formally add a strength-of-schedule component that requires all schools to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis. Each SEC team will continue to play eight conference games per season, with six games against division opponents and two games against cross-division opponents, including a permanent opponent and a rotating cross-division opponent. So the Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee games are safe. And Georgia already complies with the new strength-of-schedule rule by playing Georgia Tech of the ACC every year.
On another subject, Lamar Westbrook likes the way UGA’s Jeremy Pruitt has thrown the competition for starting positions on the defense wide open. He writes: I have always said that Georgia should play the best players, no matter if they are freshmen, or seniors! Grantham’s problem — and there were many — was that he left guys in too long instead of playing enough kids to keep them fresh. Fresh players in the fourth quarter don’t miss tons of tackles! Also, I hope Pruitt will do something with our secondary; these kids were awful, especially Damian Swann, this guy can’t cover my 72-year-old mom! Surely they have better guys than him! Anyway, looks like Pruitt is going to toughen them up and quit the ”we will get them next time” number. Georgia needs to hit the ground running and not make up excuses for the bad play! I think Pruitt is a no-bull-crap kind of guy and will get results, not excuses!! Thanks buddy!
I hope you’re right, Lamar. We’ll see this fall how effective Pruitt’s approach will be.
Neil Goodman is worried about more suspensions possibly arising from a TV show shooting in Athens. He writes: CMT’s popular reality show “Party Down South” [has moved] to Athens. Cameras capturing the Athens nightlife 24/7? This cannot be a good omen for any of the football players who frequent local bars. Has anyone told Coach Mark Richt? I can imagine the amount of footage showing football player violations all over ESPN.
Neil, I’m not sure whether your concerns fall under the category of borrowing trouble, but let’s face it, nowadays anywhere you go you’re likely to get captured on video by somebody’s smartphone if you act up. So having a “reality” show TV crew cruising Athens’ bars probably doesn’t put the Dawgs at any more risk than at any other time.
Finally, Ken Geraci writes: Hello Bill, I am a UGA alumnus living in Athens, Greece. Recently, for my son’s 2nd birthday, I ordered some gear from the “official site” of the Georgia Bulldogs, Georgiadogs.com. At a considerable expense, I had these items shipped overseas to get it here for his big day. To our surprise, when he opened the gift, he found a brand new pair of Nebraska Cornhusker swim trunks! So my question is this … did our athletic department lose a bet when we lost the bowl game and have to start selling Cornhusker gear or is the “official” online store for the Georgia Bulldogs a bunch of nonsense?
Wow, wrong Big Red! Thanks for the laugh, Ken. Actually, the online store at Georgiadogs.com is not run by UGA, but by Fanatics Retail Group in Jacksonville. If you haven’t already, contact their customer service reps either through the online link that was in the confirmation email you should have received, or by calling 1-904-421-4514.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg