by Doc Harper
Posted 3/2/2012 11:00 am
Updated 2 years ago
While much of the recent scheduling talk in Arkansas has been the usual friendly snowball fight/duel to the death over how many and which Razorback games should be played in Little Rock, folks throughout the rest of the SEC are trying to figure out the best way to schedule football games for all teams in the future.
The SEC athletic directors met in Nashville this week to discuss how best to continue traditional rivalries while also continuing to play each of the other conference teams somewhat regularly. With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, the conference has found itself in quite the pickle. Each team now has an added divisional opponent taking the place of one cross-divisional opponent. As a result, the SEC agreed, for the 2012 season, on a schedule known as a 6-1-1: each team plays the other 6 teams in its division, one permanent rival from the other division, and one rotating opponent from the other division.
The SEC stressed that when the schedule was released it was not a permanent setup. Simply put, that’s because there is a really big problem with it. Under the 6-1-1 setup, Arkansas, for example, would only get visits from each school in the East, other than South Carolina, once every 12 years. And vice versa. And Athens, Ga., really should be visited more than once a decade.
One solution would be to eliminate the permanent rival system, but that’s unlikely to go anywhere. This idea is in place to protect two of the SEC’s premier rivalries, Tennessee-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia. Arkansas fans who lived through losing their annual showdown with Texas may have little sympathy for the idea of those schools losing what they’d probably consider their second-best rivalry, but games like those are part of what make the SEC what it is. The SEC didn’t become the dominant conference in the country just by having a lot of the best teams. It also became that way because of the rabid passion of the fans, which is in part generated by the deep-seeded hatred certain fan bases have for one another.
The view from here is simple. The SEC should go to a nine-game schedule. As conference realignment shakes up the college football landscape, other conferences have already adopted the model. The Pac-12 has played a nine-game schedule for years. The Big 12 began in 2011. The ACC just announced it would go to the system when Syracuse and Pitt join the league. The Big 10 is sticking with an eight-game slate, but they still only have 12 teams. We’d list the Big East’s model, but it’s more fun pretending they don’t exist.
There is actually historical precedent to add to the SEC season. When Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992, the SEC played a seven game schedule. Part of the reason for expansion was to split into divisions, create an eight game schedule, and hold the SEC championship game. And in many of those years, schools played eight conference games while playing 11 game seasons. Schools still played non-conference games such as Florida State, Texas, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. I doubt schools would stop scheduling those games. Also, by adding two teams in 2012 without adding to the schedule, the SEC is diluting itself. In fact, Georgia is going to enjoy defending the East crown by playing neither Arkansas, Alabama nor LSU for the second year in a row.
The SEC brand is associated with being the toughest league in America. Some even refer to it as the NFL’s minor league. That reputation was built because nearly every week, there is at least one marquee game taking place. Should Alabama v. Florida only get played twice in 12 years? Here are just some of the games that would’ve happened in 2012 but were cut from the conference slate to make room for Missouri and A&M: Arkansas at Tennessee, Georgia at Alabama, and Auburn at Florida.
But who would have watched that?
Some might be afraid nine SEC games in a season is too tough. From an Arkansas perspective, the Razorbacks essentially played a nine game schedule the past three seasons by playing A&M. Somehow, the Hogs endured the gauntlet of a schedule to rack up 27 regular season victories, win two bowls, and earn a trip to their first BCS bowl. Last season, LSU scheduled both West Virginia and Oregon as non-conference games and still went on to become undefeated SEC champions. The best teams will be able to handle it.
Some are apprehensive because it would mean every other year, a team only gets four home games while their rivals might have five. Is this really that big of a deal? The most important factor in Arkansas’ schedule in recent years has been whether the Razorbacks played both Alabama and LSU on the road or at home. If Arkansas had to play that extra game in Knoxville,Tenn., this year, it’s not a killer. Also, would it be impossible for each school in a division to have five home or road games the same year? That might make things more fair.
If a reason against this is because schools like Kentucky would have a harder time becoming bowl eligible, frankly, are many people that torn up at the possibility of the Wildcats missing an occasional Music City Bowl? Any added revenue generated from Missouri and A&M should more than enough to offset whatever Kentucky would bring in from their trips. And watching Kentucky play in those bowls is usually painful anyway.
If nothing else, what fan would rather see their team play another cupcake instead of a conference opponent? More tickets are sold for conference games. Television ratings are higher for conference games. More recruits come to conference games.
Schools shouldn’t be afraid. The SEC is known as an aggressive, visionary conference. The first conference to have a championship game. The first conference to strike the type of major TV deal other conferences recently struck. And, of course, the first conference to win six straight national titles. But impossible though it may seem, the SEC won’t win a national title every year. There will come another time when an SEC team has its schedule compared to that of another school from a rival conference and an eight game slate won’t hold up.
And I’m not just writing all this because I’m seriously disappointed I’m not going to get to take a trip to Knoxville in November, although I’m admittedly quite bitter.