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SEC Approves 6-1-1 Conference Schedule

Following a brief, closed-door discussion at the league’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla., SEC athletic directors approved a proposal for running the conference schedule along a 6-1-1 split: six games against divisional opponents, one game against a rotating opponent from the opposite division and one game against a permanent cross-divisional rival.

The plan will take effect in this coming season, helping the league accommodate the arrival of Missouri and Texas A&M. For the league, unpalatable alternatives included a 5-2-1 split — which would have caused each team to miss one divisional opponent, creating the opportunity for a multiple-team tie — or moving to a nine-game conference schedule; the latter option would have maintained the SEC’s prior practice of having each team play two opponents from the opposite division.

Early dissension regarding the 6-1-1 plan came about as a result of trepidation over an increasingly difficult conference schedule. For L.S.U. and athletic director Joe Alleva, an already rough-and-tumble docket of SEC West opponents only grows more difficult with the program’s annual rivalry with Florida.

Can you imagine an SEC without Alabama-Tennessee or Georgia-Auburn — can you imagine college football as a whole without these two rivalries? What’s difficult to picture is how the vote for a 6-1-1 plan wasn’t unanimous; according to Robbie Andreu, the Florida beat reporter at The Gainesville Sun, there was at least one dissenting vote.

On Monday, one day before the start of the SEC meetings, Alleva told The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais that he didn’t think having permanent rivals was “fair,” and that “people have voted in the best interests of their schools and not the league.”

L.S.U. chancellor Mike Martin echoed Alleva’s point, adding that he would “try to make the case” for ending the league’s practice of annual cross-divisional rivalries. “I will make the case for L.S.U. [at this week’s meetings]. I think we at least have a shot.”

History wins out over short-sightedness — history always wins in this case. For L.S.U., present-day trepidation lost out to the history associated with the Florida rivalry; perhaps the same can be said of other long-standing rivalries protected in the 6-1-1 plan’s approval.

Any dissension on L.S.U.’s part reveals a short-term view of the program’s prospects; in addition, perhaps it should be noted that Martin is the university’s outgoing chancellor — he’ll leave for Colorado State this month. Removing Florida from its conference schedule might smooth the Tigers’ path to the B.C.S. in 2012 or 2013, but in the big picture, not having Florida on the schedule would greatly weaken L.S.U.’s strength of schedule. In the long run, it pays for L.S.U. to play Florida on an annual basis.

The same can be said of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia, but those rivalries inhabit a larger part of our national psyche than does Florida-L.S.U., though the latter rivalry took on a fever pitch when Urban Meyer was in Gainesville.

Beginning in 2012, the permanent cross-divisional rivalries:

Kentucky-Mississippi State
South Carolina-Texas A&M

Take note of the two new cross-divisional rivalries. Arkansas and South Carolina, two previous annual rivals, will now meet Missouri and Texas A&M, respectively. Seeing that the rivalry between the Razorbacks and Gamecocks ranked among the SEC’s least historically relevant — though obviously not the weakest rivalry — it made sense for the league to give each program a new annual rival.

One additional point to consider as we look ahead to further conference expansion: Could these historic cross-divisional rivalries disappear for good if the SEC moves to 16 teams in the near future? If the SEC does expand, the only way to preserve the rivalry games would be to either rework the divisions themselves or to move to a nine-game conference schedule.

With eight teams in each division, the league would probably want each divisional team to meet once — there’s seven games. A rotating cross-divisional game would add an eighth game. To keep Auburn-Georgia and the like, the SEC would need to add a ninth conference game or move these teams into the same division. Would the SEC like either scenario? I doubt it. Perhaps this is one factor the league will keep in mind when it considers further expansion.

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  1. Matt Rob says:

    I understand the advantages of an extra nonconference game (i.e., a guaranteed home game or neutral-site game with a large payout) over an extra conference game, but I would still rather see the SEC move to a 9 game slate.

    At some point in the future the SEC won’t be the top conference, and playing eight games (and the Furmans of the world) against conference mates instead of nine will hurt their strength of schedule.

  2. Andrew says:

    Woah now. We wouldn’t want to play a 9 conference game schedule like the Pac-12 and soon to be the Big 10. That guarantees us at least 7 more losses, which hurts how awesome and shiny our conference looks every year.

    No way, lets just schedule Southern Arkansas State again.

  3. Hokieshibe says:

    When your conference is this big, 9 conference games only makes sense. I’m still hoping the acc goes to 9 myself. It’s insane to play a cross division opponent less than twice a decade

  4. schedule nit says:

    This is a cop-out by the SEC. Why they think people want fewer interesting games is beyond me.

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