How Bad Is S.E.C. Scheduling in Football?

You have to be kidding me. From out in Pac-10 country comes this snarky snippet of smart-aleck silliness:

We'll soon take a closer look at the courageous scheduling choices of other BCS conferences, including the Mighty SEC, which will undoubtedly lead the weenie list again in 2007.

Uh . . . "lead the weenie list again"?

Read my lips: S.E.C. schedules are improving! Pac-10 fans who say otherwise are simply giving voice to their West Coast bias . . . particularly since so many S.E.C. teams are adding Pac-10 teams to their slates.

The next time y'all talk about Pac-10 expansion, give these guys a look; next fall's Cal-Tennessee clash will be the Volunteers' 22nd regular-season meeting with a Pac-10 team in the last 34 years.

For the record, here are the 2007 non-conference schedules of the 12 Southeastern Conference member institutions:

Alabama: Western Carolina (September 1), Florida State at Jacksonville (September 29), Houston (October 6), and Louisiana-Monroe (November 17)
Arkansas: Troy (September 1), North Texas (September 22), Tennessee-Chattanooga (October 6), and Florida International (October 27)
Auburn: South Florida (September 15) and New Mexico State (November 17), plus two opponents to be named later (for which we in Bulldog Nation will mock them mercilessly)
Florida: Western Kentucky (September 1), Troy (September 8), Florida Atlantic (November 17), and Florida State (November 24)
Georgia: Oklahoma State (September 1), Western Carolina (September 15), Troy (November 3), and at Georgia Tech (November 24)
Kentucky: Eastern Kentucky (September 1), at Temple (September 8), Louisville (September 15), and Florida Atlantic (September 22)
Louisiana State: Middle Tennessee (September 1), Virginia Tech (September 8), at Tulane (September 29), and Louisiana Tech (November 10)
Mississippi: at Memphis (September 1), Missouri (September 8), Louisiana Tech (October 6), and Northwestern State (November 3)
Mississippi State: at Tulane (September 1), Jacksonville State (September 22), U.A.B. (October 6), and at West Virginia (October 20)
South Carolina: Louisiana-Lafayette (September 1), South Carolina State (September 15), at North Carolina (October 13), and Clemson (November 24)
Tennessee: at California (September 1), Southern Miss (September 8), Northern Illinois (September 22), and Louisiana-Lafayette (November 3)
Vanderbilt: Richmond (September 1), Eastern Michigan (September 29), Kent State (October 27), and Wake Forest (November 24)

Are there some bogus games on those slates? Of course there are. For one thing, I'm glad the S.E.C. is rearranging the conference schedule for November 3, or else that date---which, by the way, is my 39th birthday---might just be the worst Saturday of football in Southeastern Conference history.

I make no excuses for the presence of a Division I-AA opponent on nine of 12 S.E.C. slates (with another likely forthcoming for the Plainsmen); no legitimate team should ever schedule a lower-division opponent, period. I readily acknowledge the reasonableness of holding Auburn's 2004 strength of schedule against it, I deny that Auburn's claim to that year's national title has any legitimacy whatsoever, and, this season, I ranked Southern California highly, in part, because there were no lower-tier teams on the Trojans' slate.

That said, no major conference is entitled to point fingers in this regard . . . not even the Pac-10, which has made Portland State the Western Carolina of the Pacific Northwest.

Double-check my math, but it appears that, when we look at the Division I-A out-of-conference contests appearing on next fall's S.E.C. slates, we find 17 games involving teams from non-B.C.S. leagues that did not attend bowl games in 2006, but we also see 13 opponents from major conferences and 19 teams that attended bowl games this season.

Tennessee's weenie schedule, for instance, includes the Cal Golden Bears. (Photograph from The Daily Californian.)

In order to take part in out-of-conference outings, S.E.C. teams will travel to Atlanta, Berkeley, Chapel Hill, Jacksonville, Memphis, Morgantown, New Orleans (twice), and Philadelphia in 2007. Next autumn, Southeastern Conference squads will face the Bulls, the Cardinals, the Cowboys, the Demon Deacons, the Golden Bears, the Hokies, the Mountaineers, the Seminoles (twice), the Tar Heels, two sets of Tigers, and the Yellow Jackets in non-league games against other B.C.S. conference members, as well as taking on two teams that formerly belonged to major conferences and three other teams that attended bowl games in 2004 or 2005.

The teams that won this year's Emerald, Gator, GMAC, Holiday, Independence, New Orleans, Orange, and PapaJohns.com Bowls all appear on S.E.C. schedules next fall. The teams that, despite losing in postseason play, at least appeared in this year's Chick-fil-A, Gator, Liberty, Motor City, Music City, Orange, Poinsettia, and Sun Bowls all appear on S.E.C. schedules next fall.

The teams ranked sixth, 10th, 14th, 17th, and 20th in the final 2006 BlogPoll, as well as three others among those "also receiving votes," appear on S.E.C. schedules next fall . . . and Southeastern Conference squads will face four of those eight opponents on the road or at a neutral site. That qualifies as "the weenie list"?

What troubles me about this addled animadversion is that it betrays a knee-jerk prejudice that may once have had a foundation in fact, but has since been overtaken by events. I know that old habits die hard, but, honestly, people, we need to get some new material. Georgia fans (including me) like to talk about how the Georgia Institute of Technology is located next to a housing project and Georgia Tech fans like to talk about how deficient the University of Georgia is as an academic institution. They're nice lines . . . they just happen not to be true; the housing project in question was torn down to make way for the 1996 Olympics and the academic reputation of the nation's oldest state-chartered university has been on the rise steadily for the last two decades.

Lewis Grizzard used to say that it wasn't true that, if you drove through Athens with your windows rolled down, they'd throw a diploma in your window; explained Grizzard, "You have to stop." Well, nowadays, you have to stop and get out of your car!

Frankly, it annoys me to no end when someone on the West Coast starts smarting off about S.E.C. scheduling. It bugs me because I do what I can to combat some commonplace, yet erroneous, ideas many Southern football fans hold about the Pac-10 having dispassionate followers, weak defenses, and all that jazz. I try to quiet down the yahoos in my environs, so I find it particularly frustrating when this kind of ignorant silliness issues from a part of the country I make a concerted effort to defend and to treat seriously and respectfully.

For the record, S.E.C. scheduling has been solid throughout most of the league's history. Georgia, despite being constantly criticized for not having played a game outside the South since 1965, has a long tradition of scheduling nationally and Damon Evans is restoring that part of our heritage, even though his interest in scheduling a series with Michigan met with a chilly response, his attempt to schedule a series with Oregon State failed when the Pac-10 team chose not to close the deal, and the deal he made for Georgia to play Cincinnati was cancelled when the Bearcats' athletic director learned that the Bulldogs were not a Midwestern team.

Even Auburn, which boasts some of the worst non-conference scheduling this side of Kansas State or Texas Tech, has done a fair job, both historically and more recently, of taking on legitimate out-of-conference competition.

The quality of the S.E.C.'s non-league scheduling began to decline as a direct result of the establishment of the conference championship game in 1992, but the Bulldogs' recent additions of home and home series with Oregon and Oklahoma State offer evidence that the conference's scheduling is on the upswing once again.

All of a sudden, this win is looking a lot more impressive, too!

I respect the Pac-10 and I have defended both U.S.C.'s claim to the 2003 national championship and the conference's webloggers, but I am tired of hearing underconfident whining from some---by no means all, or even most, but some---Pac-10 fans who bash the S.E.C. from a position of ignorance.

I am particularly weary of having to reassure fans from other conferences that I respect leagues besides the S.E.C. while many such fans feel free to paint with too broad a brush when smearing me and fans like me in ostensible obliviousness to the fact that, when they do so, they are betraying precisely the sort of bigotry they wrongly ascribe to me and my ilk.

Are there legitimate criticisms that Pac-10 fans can offer about the S.E.C.? Yes, there are (and I share their views), but I take those criticisms much more seriously when they come from people who are willing to praise what is right about the S.E.C., as well. Could S.E.C. scheduling be better? Yes, it could. Should S.E.C. scheduling be better? Yes, it should . . . and it is getting there.

In the meantime, though, I would be most grateful if folks would lay off of accusing my alma mater and its conference coevals of "lead[ing] the weenie list again" . . . particularly if those folks root for a league whose member institutions' 2006 slates included games against Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Portland State (twice, Cal fans should note), and Stephen F. Austin. Speaking on behalf of the kettle, I would respectfully ask the pot to pipe down.

Go 'Dawgs!

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