Well, looky here – Kevin Scarbinsky and Andy Staples follow in Matt Hayes’ footsteps and come out in favor of Les Miles’ campaign to end the SEC’s permanent cross-division rivalries. It’s a veritable media groundswell. It’s kind of funny watching the same institution that’s routinely mocked Miles for some of his less than brilliant game management at times find wisdom in the man’s judgment now. (If Chris Huston is the next to chime in favorably, I quit.)
The funny thing about all this is that Miles has said embarrassing stuff about scheduling for years. But now he’s being taken seriously. I don’t get it.
Scarbinsky’s piece is easy to dismiss. It’s more of a giant “boy, do Auburn and Tennessee really suck these days” wankfest than anything else. Staples takes a more thoughtful approach, although in the end, it doesn’t get him to a different destination.
The SEC has tossed tradition before, and sometimes with happy consequences. Florida and Tennessee played quite irregularly before the divisional split. From 1992-2006, theirs was the league’s most exciting rivalry. South Carolina and Georgia, who played some fun games when South Carolina was an independent, have become excellent border-state rivals. Besides, the Iron Bowl, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and the Egg Bowl remain untouchable thanks to divisional alignments. So the league can still cling to some traditions while also ushering in a bright — and lucrative — future with a scheduling philosophy that gives teams a more even road to the SEC and national titles.
If you’re Mike Slive, “bright” and “lucrative” are redundant terms.
I know Andy’s a Florida guy so ignoring pre-1990 SEC history is wired into his DNA, but that Florida-Tennessee reference is too brief. In the old days before divisions, conference teams never played round robin schedules, so yes, some matchups were infrequent. But others were forged over a long period to become part and parcel of the SEC’s identity. And even though the ’92 expansion was a money grab at its heart, Roy Kramer was smart enough to know that it was important to preserve the legacy of games like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia because they helped define the conference even as it changed.
Behind Miles’ complaint is a pernicious attitude that winning the SEC should be viewed as little more than a means to an end and that the only goal of scheduling should be as a useful tool to help the powerhouse schools find their way into the national postseason picture. Now he’s a coach, so I get where he’s coming from. But as a fan and as someone who appreciates the history behind the Oldest Rivalry in the South, that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
And Staples is kidding himself with his “cling to some traditions” silver lining. Because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that we all know what the SEC will do with its scheduling in the end – carefully weigh all of its options and choose the one that makes the most money, history be damned. As I’ve said before, that’s the only tradition the SEC believes in these days.
UPDATE: Barnhart reiterates why we can’t have nice things.
I can tell you that the last time this issue was seriously discussed in Destin it was very contentious. Missouri and Texas A&M were coming into the conference and one side felt strongly that at 14 teams, the SEC couldn’t afford to hold on to the old scheduling model for the sake of those two traditional rivalries. The old model survived but there was an understanding that the issue would be revisited.
He says LSU doesn’t have the votes for change. That may be, but this issue isn’t going away. And you can thank the lack of thought that went into the last round of conference expansion for that.