There exists within the Southeastern Conference a divisive issue that remains unresolved, with the pertinent parties separated by differences of opinion regarding the future of the league schedule. Up for discussion are such extreme options as a nine-game conference slate or the discontinuation of permanent interdivisional rivalries, both of which are manifestly against the interests of the Georgia Bulldogs. How, though, are we to preserve perennial rivalry games yet rotate through the teams from the other division in a reasonable span?
Well, how about reshuffling the divisions?
As the ACC and the Big Ten have demonstrated, it is possible to arrange divisions according to principles other than geography, and the distinctions "SEC East" and "SEC West" ceased to be meaningful in any literal sense the moment the Missouri Tigers were placed in the former rather than in the latter. So why not reorganize the divisions around rivalries, rather than around proximity? It ain’t like the league can’t afford the airplane tickets.
It is important that the Florida Gators annually play the Georgia Bulldogs, and that the Georgia Bulldogs annually play the Auburn Tigers, and that the Auburn Tigers annually play the Alabama Crimson Tide, and that the Alabama Crimson Tide annually play the Tennessee Volunteers, and that the Tennessee Volunteers annually play the Kentucky Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores. How do we preserve the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, the Iron Bowl, the Third Saturday in October, the Beer Barrel, and the in-state showdown between the combatants from Knoxville and Nashville as annual affrays? Easy; just put Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt in the same division.
That leaves the Arkansas Razorbacks, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, South Carolina Gamecocks, and Texas A&M Aggies to form the other division. That arrangement makes as much geographic sense as the current set-up, and it eliminates entirely the controversy over interdivisional rivalries by putting all the teams for whom interdivisional rivalries are a sticking point in the same division. The divisions are balanced, with three of the conference big boys in each division: Alabama, Florida, and Georgia in one, and Louisiana State, South Carolina, and Texas A&M in the other. Because there is no longer any need for permanent interdivisional rivalries, the league is free to retain an eight-game conference schedule, with six division games and two rotating games against the other division.
Honestly, the only drawback I can see to this is that it ends the Georgia-South Carolina series as an annual rivalry game, which I neither intend as an insult nor view as a minor sacrifice. The Bulldogs have a long history with the Gamecocks; the series typically has been competitive, generally historically and certainly recently; the importance of the rivalry for both neighboring teams has grown substantially in recent years.
However, the alternative was to sacrifice a different rivalry, and that would have thrown matters out of kilter. Since Georgia-Florida, Georgia-Auburn, Alabama-Auburn, and Alabama-Tennessee are, and ought to be, untouchable, the only option would have been surrendering one of the Volunteers’ year-end series. Since the Big Orange undoubtedly would have preferred to have preserved their in-state series, retaining Georgia-South Carolina would have necessitated sacrificing Kentucky-Tennessee.
That would have been problematic, for two reasons. First of all, putting the Gamecocks in the same division with the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide, and the Gators would have shifted the balance of power too greatly, essentially turning the Aggies’ showdown with the Bayou Bengals into a division title tilt on a yearly basis. South Carolina is one of the big boys now, and the Garnet and Black must be treated as such; this is the price of success.
Secondly, Kentucky and Tennessee already have lost their annual basketball series to conference expansion, so it is unfair to subject those two fan bases to that same fate in football, as well. This is especially so, in light of the fact that the football series between the Volunteers and the Wildcats has been uninterrupted except by world wars since 1906, whereas the gridiron rivalry pitting the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks has taken breaks repeatedly, as recently as 1991 and for stretches as long as six years (1894-1900), eight years (1911-1919), 13 years (1924-1937), and 17 years (1941-1958).
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen; we can preserve all of the SEC’s historic annual rivalries (including resuming Auburn-Florida) and retain an eight-game conference schedule and go back to having two rotating opponents from the other division and create balanced divisions. Who’s with me?