SEC to Stay at Eight League Games

I’m of mixed feelings about this—I think this was the worst possible outcome, especially with other conferences going to nine games. The (likely) options were this:

  1. Stick with the current setup: Play everyone in your division, one permanent opponent from the other side, and one rotating opponent from the other side.
  2. Add a rotating conference opponent, so that teams in the league actually play each other (currently, it takes 12 years to play every team home-and-home rather than 3).

Problems with the current system

Playing only one opponent from the other division can easily create imbalances, such as last year: LSU drew at Georgia, Alabama drew vs. Kentucky. Also, the permanent opponent is nice for some teams, and a real pain for others. LSU gets Florida, and Alabama has the down-on-its-luck-since-2006 Tennessee Volunteers. (Butch, I think, is the guy to get them on track though. I’d love for them to upset the Crimson Tide this year.)

What The Coaches Decided

The coaches went with option 1. The only thing they added was “Oh, and play a Power-5 conference team every year.” For most of the East teams, this means nothing, as Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida already have ACC match ups every year. Vandy usually has one (e.g. this year), as does Mizzou and Tennessee. For the West, we may see a minor bump up in games played (Texas A&M has no excuse for a garbage schedule like we do), but most of them will most likely lead to the same sub par matchups as Alabama vs West Virginia as a neutral site game rather than an Alabama–Oklahoma home-and-home series. If it was mandated that two games had to be “Big 5″ and that they had to be home-and-home, I’d feel much better about it, such as Georgia’s set up with Clemson. Kudos to the Dawgs.

Selfishly, as a Vandy fan, I’m pleased with the short-term nature of the decision—we still have some team building to do, and the current setup allows us to continue to do that. I’m also totally fine with Ole Miss as a cross-divisional opponent, and I’m sure Ole Miss fans are more than thrilled about it. Our teams have a pretty good history with each other. Besides, we would hardly be regularly favored in any SEC matchup that we don’t already play annually other than maybe Mississippi State.

What the SEC should have done

I think it’s clear what they should have done—go to nine conference games. But a better compromise would be to schedule two similar, out of conference Power 5 opponents. That means Bama plays Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame on a home-and-home. Vandy schedules Duke, Stanford, Wake Forest, or Stanford.

I think they could have gone a step further and really evaluated how they want the league to look further down the road. As Mizzou and A&M become further integrated into the league, they need to be treated as full members, not scheduling inconveniences. The best way that needs to happen is to put Mizzou in the West, where they belong. There’s no reason Florida and Mizzou should be playing every year—it’s simply not fair. Someone’s going to get hurt, that’s the nature of the game. Tradition is nice, but you have to be open to new traditions as well. I think the divisions should be re-split this way:

 East

West

Florida

Texas A&M

Georgia

Missouri

Tennessee

Arkansas

South Carolina

LSU

Kentucky

Mississippi

Auburn

Mississippi State

Vanderbilt

Alabama

What, you say? No more “Third Saturday in October?” How about Mizzou doesn’t get shafted every fall, the Iron Bowl remains intact (with a possible matchup again in the SEC Championship, omg), and the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry stays intact? Problem solved.

Wait, the Third Saturday in October is more important than the other 12 teams in the league? Then switch Vandy and Alabama. That maintains the Iron Bowl as a divisional game, as well as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, and the Third Saturday in October as an annual game. This would result in a really strong East, and a much weaker West. Obviously the powers at be wouldn’t like that at all, but it’s not like it has been that fair before. The new Eastern schools would argue that LSU gets off easy in that case, but at this point the fixed opponents could be dropped for a 6–3 setup, which would spread the difficulty around significantly. At the very least, a 6–1–2 set up could ensure Vandy–Tennessee, Alabama–LSU (how’s that for parity), Kentucky–Mississippi State, and add Auburn–Arkansas (who already play annually), Florida–Texas A&M, Georgia–Mizzou , South Carolina–Ole Miss. Obviously some of those aren’t ideal, but I think it’s pretty balanced that way; Mizzou just won the East and will be relatively good for a while, Texas A&M will end up being great, and Carolina may go down while Ole Miss rises and keeps more talent in-state.

Switching the Alabama schools with Vanderbilt and Mizzou would also allow some of the midrange or lower tier schools (i.e. the state of Mississippi, the newcomers, and us) to improve and truly make the league balanced. Arkansas, Vandy, and Mississippi State have never won the league in the current set up (or at all, and may not anytime soon), and Ole Miss hasn’t won it since the 60s.

I truly believe that if the divisions are re-balanced this way with a 9–3 setup, then the SEC network would always have great games to show, it would allow the West teams to improve and rebalance the league, everyone gets a challenging schedule, and most importantly, fans don’t have to travel thousands of miles to go to a game (which means better stadium sales, a huge source of revenue for the school and local communities). It would be painful, but worth it.

Overall

Overall, bad decision. I think that a 6–1–1+2 (Big 5)would be the best compromise. That would still mean Vandy could schedule a team like Kansas, Duke, or Wake Forest while Georgia continues with Georgia Tech and Clemson etc. And why give other conferences ammunition for why their champion could be better than ours? If say the Big 12 Champ plays 9 games, wins all but one, and wins against a higher-level Power 5 team, I can see little compelling reason why they should not be picked over a two-loss SEC champion. The league isn’t staying ahead of the game like they did back when they created the league championship game. This will come back to bite us soon, and then we’ll revisit the question.

In the long run, I think that the divisions need to be altered to make things fair—the league talked about making a “100 year decision” back when A&M and Mizzou joined, so I think that they should get fair treatment. Put them in a division that makes sense (that’s what happens when you expand West). Then go to 9 games, and the league will get cozy really quickly. I know I just made your head hurt with my alternate future, but how could it not be pretty awesome down the road? You know you want to see that league. We’ll see how this goes once we see how the Playoff committee handles things.

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