Back when the conference realignment saga was still moving along hot and heavy, most bystanders, many at Dawg Sports included, hailed the addition of Texas A&M as a great "get" for the SEC. Most of us (around these parts, at least) were less excited about the annexation of Missouri, favoring Clemson or West Virginia instead, but at least the Midwestern Tigers have a loyal, dedicated fanbase and multiple athletics programs with at least a modicum of success to their name.
Now, however, we are learning more about how the piper is to be paid for this expansion-a-palooza. We first heard the rumors, and now the rumors have been confirmed by none other than our own Athletic Director. As part of a commitment to remain on an 8-game conference schedule with a 14-team conference, the SEC is seriously considering the idea of dropping all permanent inter-division rivalries.
This scheduling change, while a bad idea, is not merely a bad idea. Believe me when I tell you that there could be rioters in the streets over this move. Fortunately, however, this situation that is quickly becoming untenable has a simple solution.
Simple, as in "not rocket science." (This picture has been lawya'd)
First, though, some historical perspective:
When Georgia began its football program in January, 1892, we played two games that first season. The first was against Mercer University. The second was against The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, later renamed Auburn University.
Before we played in Sanford Stadium (or Sanford Field), before Georgia's sports teams were known as the "Bulldogs," before we had a Bulldog for a mascot, hell... even before our colors were Red and Black, we were playing Auburn.
Georgia's four most-played opponents over the years are as follows:
- Georgia-Auburn - 115 games, first played in 1892
- Georgia-Georgia Tech - 103 games, first played in 1893
- Georgia-Florida - 90 games, first played in 1904*
- Georgia-Vanderbilt - 72 games, first played in 1893
(As of the 2011 season, Georgia has not played any other school more than 65 times, and the schools at that position are Alabama and Kentucky.**)
I'm sure you will note that Georgia's two most-played and most traditional, historic rivalries are not in the SEC East, and one isn't in the SEC at all (anymore). The Auburn and Georgia Tech rivalries are older and more-played than any other rivalry we have, and simply cannot be sacrificed under any circumstances. I know we like to flick the Engineers around like the bugs they are now, but we cannot stop scheduling them any more readily than we could stop scheduling a patsy 1-AA or Sun Belt team every year. We have been playing both sets of opponents literally since 1893, and we simply can't stop now. To do so would irreparably damage the history, tradition, and very genetic makeup of Georgia Bulldogs football.
The simplest solution, I suppose, would be to keep the 8-game conference schedule and go back to having 12 teams rather than 14 in the SEC. And personally, I would keep A&M, add Clemson, and dump Arkansas, Mizzou, and South Carolina. Rather than make that radical suggestion that has no possibility of actually happening, however (I've already done that, for the record), I will stick to an option that is more plausible... and, in fact, makes the most sense from a scheduling standpoint.
After securing an NCAA waiver to continue having a conference championship game, the SEC should drop the divisional structure of the league. Instead of being forced into some odd "geographically aligned" divisional system that requires us to play Missouri more frequently than we play Auburn, the SEC should implement a system that allows each team to preserve its most important rivalries while giving the league the greatest amount of flexibility to rotate teams' schedules.
That solution is to assign each team in the conference 3 "permament rivals," then rotate the final 5 conference games between all of the remaining conference opponents. At the end of the season, the teams with the two best conference records (regardless of geography) would meet in Atlanta. For example, the SEC's new "preserved rivalry" lineup could look something like this (rivalries listed roughly in order of importance to each school):
|Team||Rival 1||Rival 2||Rival 3|
|Arkansas||Texas A&M||Mizzou||Mississippi State|
|Mississippi State||Ole Miss||Arkansas||Texas A&M|
|Ole Miss||Mississippi State||LSU||Vanderbilt|
|Texas A&M||Arkansas||Mizzou||Mississippi State|
See how I did that? With 5 games used to rotate between the remaining 10 teams, every school could make a complete home-and-home circuit of all conference teams in 4 seasons. And I didn't even get paid a single dollar, let alone the mind-boggling figures the geniuses in AD's offices around the conference get paid to come up with this stuff.
The most difficult part of the whole affair, in fact, would be lobbying the NCAA to allow the SEC to hold a conference championship game with no divisions. But, then, to argue that point successfully, one only needs to look to the regular season in 2011. LSU and Alabama were clearly the two best teams in the SEC, but an arbitrary geographically-drawn line prevented them from playing for the SEC Championship. Instead, LSU faced a Georgia team that was spirited, but not really up to their level of competition.
The 2011 SEC Championship Game should have been LSU vs. Alabama. Those were clearly the two best teams in the SEC last season, and that would have helped us avoid the debacle of a rematch that we saw in the BCS National Championship Game. The rematch would have been where it belonged... in a conference championship game to determine which team earned the right to advance to New Orleans.
This "permanent rivals" scheduling scheme not only preserves the SEC's oldest and most storied rivalries; it also ensures that the two most deserving teams every year compete in the SEC Championship Game. And, really, aren't those the two most important things that a schedule should do?
Drop the divisions, Mike Slive. Don't allow them to kill our rivalry with Auburn, Greg McGarity. There is a simpler solution, and one which involves a skillset that is right up an administrator's alley: politicking and lobbying the NCAA for a rules change. Get the waiver, and make this change before the 2013 football season. It's the only way to avoid having people show up at the Butts-Mehre Building with (proverbial, I hope) torches and pitchforks.
* - Yeah yeah, suck it revisionist Gator partisans.
** - For reference purposes for the curious, here is a table of every team Georgia has ever played, listed by number of times the match has been contested:
|Holy Cross (MA)||3|
|New Mexico St.||3|
|Middle Tenn. St.||1|
|Northwestern St. (LA)||1|
|William and Mary||1|