I think it’s fair to say that the number of people dissatisfied with the current state of SEC scheduling isn’t shrinking. You’ve got Miles’ and Spurrier’s competing fairness arguments, pressure from the networks to make sure there’s enough quality product in the conference pipeline on a weekly basis, fans’ general displeasure with paying top prices for cupcake games, Saban’s legitimate point that players should have the opportunity to face every conference foe during their careers… well, you get the picture.
The short-term problem is derived from these abominable bridge schedules Slive’s office foists on us as it ineptly tries to find a balance between these competing interests (more accurately, some of these competing interests) while continuing to honor the cross-divisional permanent opponent games established in 1992 and most schools’ desire to keep a high number of home games against lower class opponents.
It’s complicated. Too complicated. Tyler Dawgden, riffing off a post that appeared at the LSU blog And the Valley Shook, has a suggestion on how to begin undoing the knot the conference has tied itself up in:
Basically, if Alabama/Tennessee and Georgia/Auburn want to keep playing, good on them. Let’em. That gives the other 10 teams opportunities to play each other in a round robin way or whatever. Essentially, those four teams are opting out of the opportunity to play the other division’s opponents more often…
… My point is a strong conference is built on the teams playing each other in compelling match ups. Georgia vs. Auburn is more compelling, to me and from a marketing stand point, due to how long they’ve been playing. If LSU doesn’t want that kind of long term cross-division rivalry, that only hurts them in the long run, from my perspective.
He suggests that if the schools don’t like the opt-out approach, the SEC could think about realigning the divisions. (That’s something I discussed in a Twitter thread a couple of weeks ago – move both Alabama schools into the East and move Missouri and South Carolina out West and the conference could ditch the permanent cross-division games with both of the big rivalry games moving within the same division.) But there’s a place Dawgden doesn’t want to go.
Unless, of course we want to discuss relegation, yearly competitively balanced schedules, and crap that the NFL has done to make schedules ‘more fair.’ Which I don’t.
No problem. Michael Elkon will.
The obstacles to fair (or at least truly random) non-conference scheduling are the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries. Offer a Georgia fan fewer games with Auburn and more games with the Mississippi schools, and he won’t be pleased. But offer those fans a three-week period of top SEC opponents playing one another, and he might see a worthwhile trade-off.
Enter the Modified Spurrier. The Ballcoach wants only intra-divisional games to count in the standings. That idea does not work in its pure form, because it would relegate inter-divisional games to glorified non-conference games. In essence, you would have two castes of SEC games.
However, if we divided the season into stages, a la the World Cup, then we can accomplish Spurrier’s aim while still having meaningful cross-divisional games.
How? Here’s how.
Teams play three non-conference games. Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina would all move their in-state rivalry games into September, an idea that has been floated independently of the Modified Spurrier.
Teams play a round robin within their divisions, which means six games each.
The top three teams in each division then play each of the top three in the other division. The team with the best overall conference record at the end of this nine-game schedule is declared the champion. This does away with the SEC Championship Game, but it is replaced by the final round of the three-week closing stage being played at neutral sites.
… Meanwhile, the remaining eight teams would play three cross-divisional games that are assigned randomly. There would be no neutral-site games at this stage, so efforts would have to be made across seasons to ensure that teams that only play four home games one year play five the next.
That puts a bullet square in the heart of Miles’ and Spurrier’s fairness qualms. And it’s all kinds of awesome if you happen to be someone following one of those top three teams. But if you’re not, it basically reduces the last quarter of the season to a race to become bowl-eligible, at best. The chance to redeem a lousy season by ruining a rival school’s season with a brutal late season upset is gone. And, as Michael admits, so are those historical rivalries many of us SEC fans love. On top of that, you’d be asking the top schools to give up another home game each season, which might be made up to them financially with TV money, but would have their local businesses looking at losing a lot of game day revenue raising all kinds of holy hell about it. All in all, it’s an interesting set of choices.
The thing is – wouldn’t it just be easier to go to a nine-game conference schedule?