I mentioned the other day in discussing where the SEC goes with conference scheduling once it becomes a sixteen-team affair that no matter which way Greg Sankey goes — sticking with a divisional format, pods, division-less with three permanent foes, etc. — there will be tradeoffs.
If the SEC ditches divisions, the question you should be pondering, Georgia fans, is which schools are designated as the Dawgs’ permanent opponents. There’s more to think about than you might expect ($$).
No league has featured greater scheduling variety — or dealt with greater scheduling shock — than the SEC. Until 1991, the teams played their rivals and set up individual games without league interference. Before expansion, Auburn’s biggest rivals were Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. Three of those teams went to the East, while Auburn was placed in the West with Alabama.
To alleviate some of the expansion fallout, the SEC increased its annual games from seven to eight. Each team played five divisional foes plus two permanent cross-divisional opponents. The Tigers ended up with Florida and Georgia. Auburn and Tennessee, which had battled 36 years in a row before divisional play, since have met 11 times over the last 30 years with two taking place in the SEC title game.
Along with historical rival Alabama, Tennessee linked up annually with newcomer Arkansas. They played 11 consecutive years through 2002, then the SEC dropped to one annual crossover. The Vols and Razorbacks since have competed only four times in the last 20 years. On the flip side, Tennessee faced Georgia and Florida only 21 and 19 times, respectively, before they became East Division foes. They since have played 30 consecutive years.
The only reason why the SEC has any permanent non-divisional games is because of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
Okay, so what would a mad scramble to arrange permanent opponents look like? Here’s one example:
Sure, Auburn-Georgia and Florida-Georgia are no brainers, but after that, where do you rank South Carolina or Tennessee, for example? (For that matter, historically speaking, Georgia’s played both Kentucky and Vandy roughly twice as often as it has the Vols. Should that matter?)
And that’s just Georgia to consider. Multiply that by fifteen. And then duck (probably, if you’re Sankey).