Conference expansion and a half-assed defense of Les Miles

While showering this morning, it occurred to me that there’s another possible explanation that explains Les Miles’ sudden embrace of Steve Spurrier’s division record über alles proposal.  Miles isn’t being gutless so much as calculating.  He’s playing some version of three-dimensional chess against the SEC office.

Don’t scoff.  Here’s the math as he sees it.  LSU has Florida as a permanent cross-division opponent.  Even if you don’t believe Will Muschamp is the second coming of Steve Spurrier, the Gators recruit too well over time ever to be any less than a tough out.  Now, Auburn has Georgia and TAMU winds up with South Carolina.  But that SOB Saban has an enfeebled Tennessee that’s in the midst of a rebuilding program that seems to have gone on for half a decade now (and if SOD gets canned after this season probably has another five years to go).  And the rest of Miles’ division gets the Jugdish, Mohammet and Lonny of the East.

That wasn’t so great when you played three cross-division opponents, but it was tolerable because things rotated often enough to spread the burdens and benefits.  But what was unlikely under the old scenario – and, remember, it’s not as if what Spurrier has sour grapes about has been a routine occurrence – becomes a much greater possibility under a two-crosser arrangement.  Going forward, the best hand Miles can hope to be dealt is Florida and an easy team.  That’s the worst case for several of his divisional rivals.  And on the flip side, years like this, when LSU plays Florida and South Carolina, will never be a possibility for some.

That’s what sticks in Les Miles’ craw right now.  So what can he do to fight city hall?  Given that he doesn’t want a nine-game conference schedule, which would at least restore the old cross-divisional equilibrium, he’s only got one other choice:  kill the permanent cross-divisional opponent requirement.  And the way he’s figured to do that is to build support for a proposal that anybody outside of Columbia, South Carolina thinks is pretty silly.  But it’s leverage.  From there, the deal is pretty obvious:  the coaches back off on Spurrier’s proposal and the conference gives up the permanent cross-divisional game.  Who doesn’t love a fair compromise?

Honestly, I have no idea if this is what’s going on inside ol’ Lester’s head.  (Does anybody besides Miles know what’s going on inside there?)  But if you see more coaches jumping on board with Miles and Spurrier as Destin approaches, you might want to keep this in mind.

And if it happens that I’m right about this, remind yourselves that this is what we get because Mike Slive can’t competently negotiate a TV contract.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Conference expansion and a half-assed defense of Les Miles

  1. Marty

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think Miles is saying that he doesn’t want to play Florida, I think he just doesn’t want it to count the same as divisional games in the battle for the SEC championship game berth.

    If only divisional games were counted in the standings, the burdens and benefits of cross-division scheduling would still be relevant, but only as a likely first tie-breaker in case two or more teams tie for the division crown.

    • Since divisional play is round-robin, wouldn’t the likely first tie-breaker under Spurrier’s proposal be head-to-head play?

      • Marty

        My mistake, the first tie-breaker would be head-to-head. The cross-divisional games would factor into the likely 2nd tie-breaker, the overall SEC record.

        • You’re the statistician, not me, but it strikes me that it would take a heckuva logjam at the top to ever get to a second tie-breaker. You’ll never get past head-to-head with a two-way tie and any tie greater than that would mean that multiple teams would have to finish with the exact number of losses against everyone else in the tie to get to the next step. How often does that happen?

          Also, you wonder if the SEC might protect itself in the new world of playoffs by using BCS standings (or whatever they’ll use) as the next tie-breaker, instead of cross-divisional records.

          • Marty

            Fair enough, but wouldn’t that make the cross-divisional schedule less relevant then? Would Miles care how many cross-divisional games he played or which teams? How they impact his national championship aspirations is a separate issue, at least as far as Miles comments go in this case.

            BTW, I’m definitely not a statistician. I’m just a geek who enjoys compiling college football statistics!

            • I agree, assuming that my theory about what Miles is after is correct. It’s not Florida per se he’s got a problem with; it’s that he’s playing on average a tougher cross-division slate than most of his division rivals.

              As to your other point, you’re a better geek than me. ;) (That’s meant to be a compliment!)

  2. JG Shellnutt

    That Auburn isn’t doing the same, is it because a) they are not as calculating b) they strive less for success c) they are less whiny or d) Georgia is a less formidable opponent as the permanent cross divisional opponent than Florida is for LSU?

  3. Krautdawg

    Speaking of TV contracts, what would CBS and ESPN think about having LSU-Florida, UGA-Auburn, and Bama-Tennessee every 5 to 7 years?

    My guess: “Meh. We’ll cross-check viewership against other potential marquee matchups.”

    • Otto

      If you keep the current permanent cross division matchups and make the other games a 7 year rotation could you imagine the media build between a regular season game between Bama and UF ot LSU and UGA.

  4. Bub

    Great point. Let’s play the most exciting and competitive matchups LESS so that we can have a really cool MEDIA BUILD. Man, it’ll be awesome! /sarcasm

    Why are we even having this conversation? The idea is stupid. The whole point of conference games is that they count in the conference standings. The people in charge just keep coming up with dumber and dumber ideas seemingly to supply a solution to problems created by other dumb ideas they have already implemented. And some of us actually go along with it.

    It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  5. Rebar

    Bejeebus, when did we get so many whiney coaches in the vaunted SEC? Beat who you play and you don’t have to worry about which division they are in!

  6. AusDawg85

    You shower?! Tips from SOD I’m sure :-)

    I’m curious about the tie-breaker too. Suppose Bama beats Arky, Arky beats LSU, and LSU beats Bama so all three have identical division records with 1 loss and no head-to-head tie-breaker. BCS ranking would be AWFUL, and Uncle Lester, SOS and any others would be right back where they began if it’s overall SEC record…amirite?

    • Same thing happened in 2003. I don’t remember Zook or Fulmer bitching as much about the tie-break process then as Spurrier and Miles are now.

  7. LostDawg

    Once you think about it, the idea of lowering a cross divisional game actually seems like a good deal. There is little common ground annually among divisional teams. Teams in both divisions balloon up and down year to year (with a few exceptions here and there). Why not count cross divisional games as half a game. Crown each division champ based on division play. That really is the only common thread among SEC teams. Spurrier may actually be on to something here. There more we dive into this subject, the more I like it.

  8. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Conference expansion isn’t over. The SEC will be at 16 teams (2 divisions of 8 teams each) within another year or two. The conference will go to 9 conference games then. The question then becomes will there be any cross-divisional play at all at that time? The teams of the SEC East do not like they are being treated in all this. I say that the SEC East ought to secede from the SEC and form the Confederate States Conference.That might work except we probably could never get Missouri to make a final decision one way or the other.