Stumbling through the dark: the fine art of SEC scheduling

I never expected everyone to get my concern about the SEC’s staggering around with conference scheduling.  Year2 starts out in a different direction in this post, but midway through notes this:

… I agree with the Senator that the real story here is not the absence of the Orange and Blue versus the Orange and White on CBS, but rather the indication that expansion is going to muck around with a number of conference customs. I too am concerned about it, but I keep reminding myself that the 2012 slate is just a one-time thing. They’re going to take some more time over the coming year to try to get things right.

I wish I could believe that, but after reading this David Paschall article from yesterday, I’m not convinced.  At all.

… Auburn and Georgia have been playing since 1892 in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry, and the Tigers lead 54-53-8 after 115 series meetings. Alabama and Tennessee began playing annually before the SEC’s creation in 1933, and the 13 conference titles won by the Volunteers are topped only by the 22 by the Crimson Tide.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley expressed his concern last September that conference realignment was “tampering with something that has made college football so special.” In October, two days before his Tide hosted the Vols, Alabama coach Nick Saban said, “It’s the biggest game all year to me when we play Tennessee.”

The other permanent cross-divisional matchups — Florida-LSU, Arkansas-South Carolina, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Kentucky-Mississippi State and the new one, Missouri-Texas A&M — are not nearly as treasured from a traditional standpoint. So the athletic directors at those 10 schools may not want their cross-divisional games saved at the expense of an extremely infrequent rotation.

“At some point, does the conference make a statement preserving the historical pieces?” said McGarity, who spent 18 years in Florida’s athletic department before becoming Georgia’s AD in 2010. “I hope that there will be a level of concern and compassion for those two rivalry games. The Florida-LSU rivalry is not a big deal, so the worry there is that it would be a 10-4 vote.”

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin hasn’t exactly been flooded with calls from fans demanding his Bulldogs continue to play Kentucky. Stricklin would like to preserve the Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee games, but he also believes the league does not have nearly enough of a rotation.

So will he vote for the 6-2 model over a 6-1-1?

“I hope there are some other options I like more,” Stricklin said.

Gosh, Scott, we do too.

These aren’t people with a plan.  They’re people flailing around, looking for a way out of a mess of their own creation.  Unfortunately for them, self-deportation isn’t an option.  And if they’re hoping that TV is going to bail them out by forcing the issue, it sounds like they’re mistaken about that, as well.

Television has been a driving factor in the changing landscape of college athletics — ESPN’s creation of a “Longhorn Network” is a major reason Texas and Texas A&M are no longer playing — but CBS Sports executive vice president of programming Mike Aresco insists his network has stayed away from realignment.

And the scheduling chore that comes with it.

“That’s up to the SEC,” Aresco said. “Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia are great rivalries, and you appreciate those, but we have a great relationship with the conference and realize they have to make those decisions. The league will have some hard decisions to make, and whatever they do, we will absolutely be fine with it.”

In other words, say the networks, tell us what you’re going to do and we’ll tell you what we’ll pay for it.

Which is how you get to a point where you’ve got an SEC athletic director wondering out loud if an NFL approach to scheduling might be a workable alternative and you’ve got two schools which haven’t played a single conference game being allowed to decide the fate of SEC rivalries that are decades old.  (At least TAMU and Missouri have recent experience terminating longstanding rivalries, right?)

What I find infuriating about this is how petty the initial motivation looks.  It’s not as if the SEC is pleading poverty.  In fact, it turns out that the current TV contract helped fuel a better payout in 2010-11 than the conference anticipated.

SEC members averaged $19.5 million from their conference payout in 2010-11, an increase of $1.2 million from the previous year, according to the league’s non-profit IRS filing.

The amount is also more than the $18.3 million average payout the SEC estimated last June from all revenues. Before new television deals with ESPN and CBS kicked in, the SEC’s average payout was $13 million in 2008-09.

These jokers have never had it so good.  Except -

The Pac-12 and Big Ten each distribute close to $21 million per school a year…

And that’s not acceptable.  As Jerry Hinnen put it, “The SEC is richer than it’s ever been–but is it rich enough?”

I think we all know the answer to that one.  Don’t forget, also, the pie is being sliced fourteen ways going forward, so it’s going to have to be bigger just to keep each piece from shrinking.  Which is why as you read all these nifty little suggestions about what to do with the conference football schedules after this season (actually, I could live with Bill’s; it’s just that the conference would have to hire somebody as smart as Bill to compile the schedule each year), the question you need to be asking yourself is which one results in CBS and ESPN writing the biggest checks.  Because I guarantee you that’s the one the McGaritys and Stricklins will be asking.

And there are two things I know about that answer:  (1) if it winds up pleasing the fans, it’ll be nothing but sheer dumb luck; and (2) once the next conference negotiates a new TV deal, it won’t be enough.

25 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, SEC Football

25 responses to “Stumbling through the dark: the fine art of SEC scheduling

  1. TennesseeDawg

    Slive’s solution will be to expand the SEC and create 3 divisions with a wildcard playoff.

  2. TomReagan

    I just wish someone could convince the ADs that these rivalries are conference ASSETS that bring value to the conference by their existence and longevity. It’s crazy that the Big 12 ever agreed to a system that didn’t preserve Oklahoma-Nebraska (which I believe was a critical element in Nebraska’s ultimate decision to leave the conference) but it’s even crazier to imagine that the SEC is considering doing the same thing on a bigger scale.

  3. Doug

    Worst. Conference expansion. Ever.

    [/comicbookguy]

  4. DawgPhan

    Plus these guys should know that those other deals cover the media rights for each team in the conference where as the SEC deal doesnt. So the $19million that UGA gets for TV gets a boost because of the Coaches show deal through, who is it? ISP? Anyway, most of the SEC schools were getting more cash each year from their media rights than there were before.

    Secondly do they really think that Mizzou and TAMU are really worth $30+million/year each to a tv deal? They would need to be worth that to add any real value to the SEC. They have to cover their $20million/year for their piece of the pie and then you would hope that together they could add another 2 million to each schools piece. All of this over basically a 10% bump per year.

    How is Mizzou worth $30million/year, but Alabama, UGA, UT, and UF weren’t worth that?

  5. Go Dawgs!

    This was a big mistake. It wouldn’t seem to me that we’re going to be getting enough money to not end up losing once we start splitting the pie 14 ways.

  6. Mayor of Dawgtown

    I am already on record as favoring kicking the Texas A&M, Missouri, South Carolina and Arkansas out of the conference and going to a round robin conference game format where every school plays every other school every year. That is the only way to crown a true conference champion and preserves all the rivalry games at the same time. The SECCG was and is a made for TV event that is only about money and is an abomination, IMHO. That’ll never happen, though. $$$$$$.

    • Connor

      There is no reverse gear in college football. It’s a sport with a deep, rich tradition that is currently being monetized at a furious pace by ESPN, Nike, and the like. Move the Big 10 to 12 teams, keep the name, go to divisional play and name the divisions “Legends” and “Leaders”. They couldn’t even be bothered to come up with anything to invoke that rich history, they just call it out. Create hideous uniforms that don’t even bear a passing resemblence to anything the team has worn before and call them an homage to a legendary former coach. End century old rivalries and…
      I suppose am becoming a crank, but I just don’t see how the best days of the sport aren’t behind us.

  7. The General

    I’ve suggested this on here before, and I suppose I should write McGarity to see if it can be discussed, but I’d honestly like to hear from you folks if you think there would be much opposition. If there is no chance of 9 conference games, why not do away with permanent cross-divisional games, but move Kentucky to the West along with aTm and Mizzou, then move Bama and Auburn to the East?

    EAST: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
    WEST: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, Texas A&M

    This honors geography better than the 2012 placeholding alignment. It also preserves AU-UGA and BAMA-UT, and creates new permanent borderwars with Mizz-UK, Mizz-Ark (along with aTm-Ark, aTm-LSU). South Carolina loses a permanent game with Arkansas, Florida loses LSU, and Vandy loses Ole Miss, but in exchange each one gets permanent games with Bama and Auburn. Lexington is about as far from College Station as it was from Gainesville, so I don’t see the Cats complaining too much. I’d suspect the remaining west teams would be happy to see Saban exit, stage east.

    Using last year’s results, this new alignment probably would have made for more parity between the divisions. It likely would have led to LSU-Bama in the SECCG instead of BCSCG, which I suppose the SEC brass might see as a drawback, but I would be very surprised if we EVER see a intra-conference rematch in the BCSCG again, as long as it stays in the current 2-team format. Am I missing something?

    • Rambo

      Historically speaking (rather than just using last year as a reference point), that plan would make the divisions incredibly unbalanced.

    • The other Doug

      The SEC East would be extremely tough in this scenario.

      • The General

        Historically speaking, A&M is no slouch. Sure there are tradeoffs with this scenario, but are you advocating a Boboistic “balance for the sake of balance”? Or would you give up the Auburn rivalry for an easier shot a the division? Would the East AD’s vote that way? As the Senator pointed out, the question is whether this is a more valuable product in terms of tv dollars. I’d say it is, given that the rivalries are preserved. We might see Uncle Verne call East games exclusively, but would that cause West AD’s veto this plan?

        • Rambo

          The top 6 programs in the conference are, in no particular order, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, and LSU. Behind that tier, you have a grouping of A&M and Arkansas, with South Carolina and Missouri right behind them.

          You’re advocating having 5 of the top 6 programs in the conference in one division. That’s not balanced. Not even close really.

  8. Rambo

    I realize the Florida-LSU rivalry isn’t quite as storied as Georgia-Auburn or Tennessee-Alabama but it’s a little ridiculous to lump it in with the other 3 cross-division games. Florida and LSU have played every year for the last 59 years, with the exception of a 3 year period from 1968-1970. It’s a solid, historic rivalry.

    And please don’t listen to Greg McGarity’s “evaluation” of the rivalry. He wants to keep the 8 game conference schedule so that he doesn’t lose one of his sisters-of-the-poor games and he knows the only thing standing in the way is the issue of these cross-division games. He’s doing his best to make it seem like only 2 games of consequence are being eliminated, instead of 3.

  9. The other Doug

    I think getting rid of the rivalries was part of the plan all along. We are just getting the truth doled out a little bit at a time to keep it under control. Also, I think the plan is to go to 16 as soon as the right teams become available.

  10. Slaw Dawg

    Okay, I come back from overseas vacation, catch up on a little Dawg info, and am pointed to an article that includes the sentence “McGarity at least would be interested in listening to a nine-game argument, WHICH HE SAID HAS YET TO BE DISCUSSED IN A FORMAL ENVIRONMENT.” (Emphasis added.) Really? The most obvious solution to preserving historic rivalries while assuring Southeastern Conference teams actually play other SOUTHEASTERN Conference teams at least 2/3 of the time hasn’t been formally discussed yet? I would take the rosy eyed view that this masks numerous discussions that have been taking place on an informal basis, but the more I read about the process, the more likely I think it is that we will give up Auburn so we can play Missouri and also have at least 2 cupcakes every year. No one will ever convince that has improved the sport. In fact, it will definitely diminish the entire college football experience for this fan.

  11. shane#1

    The big money comes from marketing and broadcast rights, and the SEC is arrogant enough to think those dumb fans will keep on giving up the donations for tickets. Have they never heard of Stub Hub or E-Bay? College football dollars are recreation and entertainment dollars. Nothing more, nothing less. Buy the games on TV and no worrys about traffic, parking, meals, and high priced hotel rooms. The SEC needs to be careful that it doesn’t lower the quality of its product and price itself out of business. As for me, I will still go to some games but for the chumps I will turn on the outside speakers on the patio, fire up the grill, ice down a thirty pack, and tailgate with my friends in my own back yard. I am not driving to Athens to see College of Charleston or whoever and I sure as hell have no intention of driving to Columbia Mo. Columbia SC is bad enough thank you.

  12. shane#1

    Oh crap, my paranoia just kicked in big time. You don’t suppose we will see an SEC cable network that will show the games that ESPN and CBS aren’t showing? Then you would have to pay monthly for the cream puffs. Time for my tin foil hat.

  13. 79dawg

    Don’t bother writing to McGarity. He basically gave me the bird last week (although unlike his predecessor, he was good enough to reply to my letter). While keeping the Auburn rivalry is a “priority” for both schools, he actually had the gall to say that “winning” was basically all that mattered, even if that means pounding the Little Sisters of the Poor or Directional State 100-0 three times each year. After receiving his reply, I think the chances of going to nine conference games annually is less than zero; with the conference staying at eight games, I would say the odds of keeping the permanent rivals is maybe 1/3. All in all, this has been pretty piss poor performance from all involved, but I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised…

  14. Dawgaholic

    I’m not sure I understand the concern about losing the Auburn game. This must be some kind of ploy to generate tv revenue. For this to happen you would presumably need at least 8 of the teams to want it. Here’s a predicted voting breakdown:
    Against:
    UGA
    Auburn
    UT
    Bama
    Almost certainly against:
    Ole Miss (86 game series against Vandy and why would they want another east team on the schedule when they get Vandy.)
    Vandy (86 game series with Ole Miss and why would they want another West team.)
    Missouri (They want/need to recruit Texas and an annual game with A&M helps tremendously.)
    Who knows:
    MSU, UK – why would they want another team, maybe higher profile but tougher games.
    UF, LSU – long rivalry but may think other matchups would be easier
    For abolishing rivalries:
    SC – idiots that don’t realize that Arky is traditionally the 4th or 5th best program in the west with the addition of A&M.
    Arky- who wouldn’t want to get out of trips to SC if possible.
    A&M – much better to have a stronger presence in states other than MO.

  15. South FL Dawg

    Drop Auburn for Missouri…..wow. At least Auburn plays TAMU. How again did the SEC east get stuck with Missouri? By vote of the western schools who were trying to save themselves?

  16. If the goal is more money, then wouldn’t a nine-game schedule bring more money? It seems like seven more SEC games to potentially televise would bring in a bit more cash from the tv suits. You can save the rivalries, have a reasonable rotation of cross-divisional games, and, um, make more money. That seems like a win-win for everybody.

    • That’s a good point. I’m guessing that they haven’t heard a final number from the broadcast people yet.

      Old habits die hard. It’s expected for them to think that the extra home game is more profitable than the TV revenue from a nine-game conference schedule until they actually see different. And they’re trying to figure out if an extra conference game would cost them in the postseason (since seven SEC teams will have an additional loss).

      Plus, the coaches all want to stay at eight.

      • Andy

        But there are already discussions about reducing the glut of bowl games and requiring 7 or even 8 wins to qualify for one. One more is not going to be as big a deal anymore. Expansion is very clearly about TV revenue, I think it’s quite likely that losing a home game every other year will be at least matched or exceeded by the extra TV revenue. Or maybe Slive made a big mistake.

        Also coaches want a lot of things, a lot of which are stupid.

  17. Deo

    1. Let each school decide if it is more important to have a yearly “rival game” or a regular rotation. If a school chooses a yearly rivalry game over a more regular rotation, then the other rivalry school would have to reciprocate. Then, move to step 2 below. If say only 6 of the 14 schools vote in a rivalry game for themselves, then the remaining 8 schools would be scheduled in a more normal rotation, realizing that the “rivalry game” schools would appear less frequently in their rotation (much as it is now in the 6-1-1 model). If at least 10 of the 14 schools choose a rivalry game, you have your answer right there – scrap this plan and go with the 6-1-1. But you have at least given everyone a say and will find out what is most important to the schools.

    2. If scheduling is being made this “professionally” difficult, then treat it as such with a NFL-style model, allowing for different scenarios. The NFL plugs in the different preferences and prohibitive actions into a computer model. In turn, the computer model spits out the best case scenario. If 6 teams approve a rivalry game (as in step 1), they are entered into the computer (along with certain dates like the “Third Saturday”), the rest are entered into a more regular rotation (with certain preferences) and the computer spits out the best case scenario from the information it is given.