This may all be moot if Missouri really is SEC-bound, but, after an argument, a rebuttal, an apology, another rebuttal, and a counterargument, I thought it was only fair to take the next step by offering a bribe.
Fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks don’t want the Clemson Tigers in the SEC East. Fair enough. I totally understand and respect that. South Carolina partisans believe I overrate Clemson; well, the BlogPoll agrees that I do. Since the Gamecock faithful believe their team would be hurt by having the Tigers in the league, it’s only fair that we offer them something to make their lives easier elsewhere, in the hope of striking a balance. Here is my proposal:
The addition of the Texas A&M Aggies and any other new members of the conference will require reshuffling the schedule, including establishing new permanent rivalries between divisions. The easiest way to do this would be to bring in two new teams, one in the East and one in the West, and make each the other’s perennial opponent from the opposite side of the divide. That, though, isn’t the only, or even the best, way to do it.
Certain inter-divisional rivalries (like Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn) are too ancient and storied to abandon. Certain others (like Florida-LSU) have become sufficiently entrenched and anticipated to warrant preserving, and then there are those (like Kentucky-Mississippi State) that inspire far too much indifference to be worth the trouble of disturbing.
The rest, though, are free to be rearranged with willful abandon. The Arkansas Razorbacks, for instance, are the Gamecocks’ permanent rival, for the sole reason that the two teams came into the SEC together. Especially in these expansionary times, this 20-year-old tie between two established members of the conference whose campuses are more than 900 driving miles apart is inadequate to justify forcing South Carolina to continue playing the Hogs on a yearly basis. If we’re going to ask the club from Columbia---S.C., not Mo.; stay with me here, people---to accept an in-state rival in its own division, we need to lighten the Gamecocks’ load elsewhere, and we can do that by making the team’s permanent Western Division opponent . . . the Mississippi Rebels.
Ole Miss has not exactly been tearing up the track of late. The Rebels went 4-8 last year, are 0-2 in conference play this year, and have inspired a fan revolt. The Gamecocks, who shared no gridiron history with the Razorbacks prior to 1992, are 7-12 against Arkansas, and this year’s November 5 showdown with the Hogs in the Natural State is liable to be daunting for the defending SEC East champions. South Carolina’s series with the Rebels, on the other hand, dates back to 1947, and Ole Miss holds only a slight lead, with an 8-7 mark. In the last meeting between the two in 2009, South Carolina upset the fourth-ranked Rebels on a Thursday night in Williams-Brice Stadium. So . . . accept the idea of giving Clemson the financial and recruiting advantages of SEC membership, and you get to (a) water down your non-conference schedule (because your year-end in-state rivalry game now is a league matchup) and (b) swap out Arkansas for Ole Miss.
That’s all well and good for South Carolina, as the Gamecocks now get a much easier inter-divisional foe, but what about the Vanderbilt Commodores, who, after taking five of their last seven from the Rebels, probably are not anxious to see Ole Miss go?
Here’s what I have to offer Vandy: Texas A&M as your permanent opponent.
Wait, what? Oh, sure, the Aggies would love to be guaranteed a virtual gimme on the SEC schedule every fall, but why on earth would the Commies, who are trying to improve their lot with a new head coach who is building a program with aggressive recruiting, be willing to play every other year in the Lone Star State?
Oh, wait . . . Vanderbilt is pushing recruiting to the forefront, and giving the Commodores the promise of a trip to Texas in alternate autumns allows Vandy to take advantage of the fertile recruiting grounds in that large and football-mad state, affording the ‘Dores a leg up on their Eastern Division coevals in that area.
All right, so that takes care of South Carolina’s problem and Vanderbilt’s problem, so where does that leave us? Our permanent inter-division rivalries are now Alabama-Tennessee, Florida-LSU, Georgia-Auburn, Kentucky-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-South Carolina, Texas A&M-Vanderbilt, . . .
. . . and Arkansas-Clemson.
Can a natural rivalry be built between the Razorbacks and the Tigers? Well, both schools long felt like the odd men out in the Southwest and Atlantic Coast Conferences, respectively. Both universities sprung from humble, and largely agricultural, beginnings before making great strides as educational institutions in more recent decades. Both teams were coached by Ken Hatfield (who left Fayetteville for Fort Hill) and by Danny Ford (whose next job after the end of his career at Clemson was at Arkansas). It sure sounds like they have a lot in common.
So there’s the deal. Everyone goes home a winner. Well, except for Ole Miss, whose schedule gets tougher at every turn because of this arrangement, but surely the Rebels are used to losing by now, and, if they struggled so mightily with Vanderbilt, surely they’d struggle with anyone, and, besides, they still have tailgating in the Grove with good-looking women, so there’s that, and, really, what are you people complaining about, anyway?
This offer will remain open for acceptance until Mike Slive announces that he will be appearing at a press conference in the Show Me State. Your move, South Carolina fans.