Much has been made over the past year or two of the issue of SEC scheduling. Much of that has focused on whether permanent inter-divisional rivals should exist and whether we should have an eight game or nine game schedule. It’s fairly evident that the editors and contributors here at DawgSports pretty much all agree that we should have permanent inter-divisional rivals. The focus of the past few days, therefore, has been on whether we should have a fourteen team SEC play eight games or nine.
I suggest we take the third option.
Why has this debate come around? There are a few reasons. First, some people complain that an eight game schedule creates unbalanced schedules where one divisional opponent can have an easy inter-divisional schedule while the other has a hard one For instance, compare LSU’s and Alabama’s 2012 regular season East opponents: LSU faced two top 10-15 teams while Alabama faced teams that went a combined 3-13 in SEC play. While the natural response is that schedules are cyclical and the team that gets an easy slate one year will get a hard slate soon enough (and vice versa), I can understand why it irks people so.
Second, with a fourteen team, eight game SEC, every SEC team will face every other SEC team only on a twelve year rotation. Some argue that creates a less connected conference. If we only have a home and home with A&M once every twelve year cycle, can we really think of them as conference mates? Sorta, but not really.
Third, the SEC doesn’t have a set schedule rotation right now. It makes each schedule on a yearly basis. That leads to concerns that some schools have undue influence in Birmingham, especially when connected to the inter-divisional SOS point above. Frankly, it’s disgusting that the SEC hasn’t gotten its act together on setting a schedule rotation. I know the upcoming playoffs and what components will be weighed in selecting participants has a major impact, but come on. Get your act together. You can announce a rotation then say its subject to change in case of changing circumstances (read: playoffs). Professional wrestling has more transparency right now.
Fourth, Spurrier has tried to say only division games should count. Basically, he thinks if you sweep your division, you should win the division, no matter how you did against the other division. under a 6-1-1, 6-2, or 6-1-2 system, I disagree wholeheartedly; that would make each division essentially its own conference with a scheduling agreement. But it brings up a question. Winning the division automatically by sweeping the division, is such a thing even possible? Yes it is.
Now comes the third option. The sixteen team, eight game season option. The Pod Option.
Others have suggested pods before. I will make no representation that this is a The 984 Original Idea (The 984 Original Ideas are usually much more absurd in their scope like moving the Phoenix Coyotes to Atlanta and renaming them the Atlanta Phoenix after the city flag, a combination of the previous two Atlanta NHL team names (fire + bird = phoenix), a symbolic Atlanta Hockey Rising from the Ashes, and a not-so-subtle troll dig at the city from which the team would have relocated). However, I have thought long and hard on the Pod System, and it addresses all four concerns above while maintaining historic rivalries. It is the most perfect solution. It just requires conference expansion (uh oh).
The conference expansion is obviously the biggest hurdle. For now, let’s just assume it’s not. Also, for the sake of creating a schedule, let’s also assume the SEC has expanded to North Carolina and Virginia by taking Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Why Wake Forest? Because I’m biased towards them, and I hate NC State for my own personal reasons.
How would this system work? First off, we must do our best to protect games important to both fanbases, have long histories, and make money for the network (I for one welcome our corporate masters). I will admit to being less certain of the important rivalries out West (especially LSU), so I might have missed some.
|Ole Miss||Mississippi State|
There are probably some more. Again, I am less certain about the important West series.
Second, we would have four pods of four. For now, let’s call them Pods A, B, C, and D. The four teams in each Pod would play each other every year. Pods should be set up to try and maintain geography and historic rivalries. I would suggest the following:
|Pod A||Pod B||Pod C||Pod D|
|South Carolina||Vanderbilt||Ole Miss||Mizzou|
|Wake Forest||Virginia Tech||Mississippi State||Texas A&M|
Each year, two of the pods would combine to form one division, and the other two pods would combine to form another division. Every team in each division would play every other team in its division (seven SEC games). The winner of each division would meet in December to decide the SEC Champion. The pods rotate so that there is a new division make-up each year. As an example, Pods A & B would be Division 1 in Year 1. Pods A & C would be Division 1 in Year 2. Pods A & D would be Division 1 in Year 3. Rinse and repeat for Years 4 through 6 but with the home teams reversed. Bam. All SEC opponents played in three years, home and home in six.
Now then. We need one more game. We want to play Auburn every year, but they’re not in our pod. This is where protected inter-podular rivalries come into play. Each team would have one protected opponent outside of its pod it would play every year. I came up with the following match ups:
|Texas A&M||Virginia Tech|
Now, it’s not perfect. There could be some trading. The first four, though, I say are set in stone.
So. We play Auburn every year for sure. Two out of three years, that makes for an eight game schedule for us. What happens, though, when Pod A and Pod C are in the same Division? That’s when secondary rivalries come into play. I suggest these:
|South Carolina||Mississippi State|
So, these games only get played when the two permanent inter-podular teams are in the same division. For instance, we and Auburn would be in the same division in Year 2. Well we need an opponent from the other division. Virginia Tech is free, so I penciled them in for us (it was them, Arkansas, or A&M). In Year 3, LSU and UF are in the same division. They both need inter-podular opponents. They get Alabama and Tennessee respectively.
In the end, it gives us a three year rotation which looks like this:
|Year 1 A+B||Year 1 C+D||Year 2 A+C||Year 2 B+D||Year 3 A+D||Year 3 B+C|
|South Carolina||Missouri||South Carolina||Missouri||South Carolina||Mississippi State|
|Wake Forest||Arkansas||Wake Forest||Arkansas||Wake Forest||Vanderbilt|
|Vandy||Ole Miss||Ole Miss||Vandy||Missouri||Ole Miss|
|VT||Texas A&M&||Mississippi State||Kentucky||Texas A&M||Virginia Tech|
Years 4 through 6, as stated, are the same as Years 1 through 3 respectively but with the home team reversed.
So what are the benefits of such an arrangement?
1. It protects important games to the best of its ability. We get Auburn every year. Bama gets Tennessee every year. The networks get LSU/UF every year.
2. It keeps the schedule at eight games. This allows us, UF, SCAR, and UK (and VT) to all maintain their yearly in-state OOC game while keeping the door open for A&M and Missouri to get their important OOC games back in the future. It also allows these teams with a pretty much mandated ninth game to still have an open spot for other big OOC games, such as UGA-Clemson, SCAR-NC State, etc without overloading on power conference teams.
3. Every team plays every other conference opponent in a three year window, six year window for home and home.
4. Here’s where Spurrier’s little idea comes into play. Under this system, if you sweep your division, you win it guaranteed. It doesn’t throw out inter-divisional games, but basic math shows that if you sweep your divisional opponents, you will clinch your division at the very least due to head-to-head results. But if there’s not a clean sweep, inter-divisional games can still decide the champion.
5. We have a set rotation that can easily be followed. Barring rejiggering the Pod, changing permanent opponents, changing secondary opponent, or changing pod rotation schedules, we know who we will play in any given year due to a set system. There’s no impropriety there.
6. Credit to Cherokee’s Girl from this joke many months back: With a pod system, the SEC can sell Four Peas in a Pod shirts. Come on, y’all. That alone makes it worth it.
I believe this proposed pod system is a solution to all of the listed concerns. The major hurdle, and it is admittedly a major one, is finding two more teams. That alone probably makes this the most unrealistic option. But if we put that aside, I think this system is the fairest system that would settle all of the arguments I’ve seen regarding 8 vs. 9. Now we just have to argue about which two teams get added.