Would Moving Alabama Schools To East Solve Everything?
By Dan Harralson
The SEC spring meetings are in the books and the No. 1 topic of discussion was the future of the SEC's conference schedule. The previous 5-3-1 format was great in knowing when and who a team would play for years to come; expansion ended that format.
Super-conferences are on the rise and probably will continue to shuffle schools and expand. But for the moment the SEC has the six divisional games, one permanent cross-divisional rival, and one rotating cross-divisional opponent (better known as the 6-1-1 format).
The uproar lately has been to protect two of the oldest SEC rivalry games if the conference decides to play an additional conference game. Alabama and Tennessee ("The Third Saturday in October"), have played 95 times, every year but one since 1928. The South's oldest rivals, Auburn and Georgia, have played 116 times and remarkably are tied at 54-54-8 against each other.
How does the SEC save these two rivalry games between cross-divisional teams and still keep all the coaches and Nick Saban happy? The SEC can stay at eight conference games, move Alabama and Auburn to the East and move Missouri and Vanderbilt to the West. Problem solved, and it makes geographical sense as well.
With Alabama and Auburn in the East, both would play Tennessee and Georgia and reunite former great match-ups. Auburn has a long-storied tradition with Florida and Tennessee, Tennessee before divisional play in 1992 and Florida before the 5-3-1 format. Seeing Alabama and Georgia on a yearly basis also would be ideal.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp insisted on a 6-2 format that allows more flexibility on playing cross-divisional opponents and staying with an eight game conference schedule.
"There’s going to be 13 coaches that come up here and give you a reason why the schedule should be a 6-2 or a 6-1-1. I think that Florida/LSU is good for our game. The 6-2 format ensures the fact that Florida is going to play Auburn in less than just a six‑year rotation. I’m sitting at the head coaches meeting, Steve Spurrier leans over to me, 'When I was a coach at Florida, that Florida/Auburn (was) a great game.' We’re looking at a 6-1-1 format. We may not see Auburn for six years. It’s difficult for a player to come to Florida and not play a rival like that," said Muschamp, a former Georgia football player who also knows about the Auburn/Georgia annual showdown.
Spurrier was one of the other 12 SEC coaches that voted to remain at eight conference games (Saban was the only dissenter) and he gave his thoughts on the subject at last week's Regions Tradition golf tournament.
"Some of us have a big ninth game. We play Clemson every year and to the fans of South Carolina, they would rather win that one than probably Tennessee or Georgia. Florida/FSU is a huge game, Kentucky/Louisville, Georgia/Georgia Tech, so that's four who have that huge ninth game," said South Carolina's head ball coach.
Is replacing Alabama and Auburn with Missouri and Vanderbilt the most logical solution? It appears so as long as the conference includes 14 teams and it allows the current SEC East teams to play their four non-conference rivalry games.
The eight-game conference schedule would ensure South Carolina the Clemson game annually among other benefits.
"We need three games. Hopefully we can beat some people, hopefully bring them into our place," Spurrier said. "Another game we're playing this year is North Carolina. South Carolina versus North Carolina, huge rivalry back when both were in the ACC, so our schedule is better like that than with nine conference games in my opinion."
Spurrier was not finished and really depicts why Alabama in the East would make more sense,
"They want to say the Alabama and Tennessee game, which is fine, they can play it and not let it count as a conference game except maybe when Tennessee is in rotation," Spurrier said. "That way we can all rotate around and it would be more fair. Les Miles has a good point and (says) that we should rotate the game around. LSU versus Florida every year is two really top teams and is a little unfair."
With eight games in conference, the two rotating cross-divisional games would guarantee a player to play against every cross-divisional team in a four-year career.
Is there more to it than just sliding Alabama and Auburn into the East, replacing Missouri and Vanderbilt?
In reality, divisional and conference scheduling changes will depend on SEC commissioner Mike Slive. Slive told me at last year's SEC media days, "Right now it's part of our by-law's and it requires legislative change to go through. The league is always flexible and innovative, but right now we are what we are."
So the hot topic of how many future conference games should be played will continue, but making the divisions geographical makes sense and allows all the teams to play their traditional rivals on an annual basis — conference and non-conference foes.