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The History of Improved S.E.C. Out-of-Conference Scheduling

The last thing in the world I need is to make more enemies. For crying out loud, I'm getting called out by Troy fans who take issue with my good-natured kidding around and my critique of ESPN has caused Cubs fans who don't know what the blogosphere is to refer to me as "they/he/she"! This is no time to stir the pot, particularly when I'm trying to make peace between the S.E.C. and the Pac-10.

It is, therefore, with the greatest trepidation that I make any effort at all to address Brian Morsony's analysis of conference schedules, which claims objectivity despite not including conference championship games because "the championship games are used to cover up the fact that the best teams often don't play each other during the regular season."

This, I believe, is a red herring; although the degree of difficulty varies from season to season, depending upon the luck of the draw, the fact is that the Pac-10 champion has to survive a nine-game conference schedule (during the regular-season round-robin) and the S.E.C. champion has to survive a nine-game conference schedule (during the regular-season eight-game league slate and the conference championship game).

In ranking the S.E.C. fourth, Morsony opines:

The SEC seems to be doing the minimum necessary to be respectable. Each team plays about one BCS team outside the conference, with a few playing two, so you can't say they played no one. The SEC teams seem content to claim they're the best conference without going too far out of their way to distinguish themselves. That isn't to say that the SEC teams play bad schedules. Five of the top 15 teams are in the SEC and some teams do have good non-conference math-ups [sic.], so even with an 8 game conference schedule each team plays 3 very good teams over the course of the season. But there are also a lot of bad teams in the SEC and on their non-conference schedules, so top to bottom the SEC schedules aren't any harder than the conferences ahead of them. It's more difficult to go undefeated in the SEC than anywhere else, but hard to go undefeated doesn't equal great schedule.

It goes without saying that Morsony's purportedly objective analysis is not objective in the same sense as, say, The Hoover Street Rag's examination of that selfsame subject. Furthermore, as a Georgia fan, I concede no ground to anyone when it comes to out-of-conference scheduling, either historically or in the 21st century, despite the 40 years of wandering in the desert that the 'Dawgs did while Vince Dooley was setting the schedule. Weak non-conference scheduling is not an S.E.C.-wide problem, it is a problem specific to particular schools and, on the whole, the league's scheduling is improving.

Still, since I recently have been in an historical frame of mind, I would like to give a degree of context to the quality of non-conference competition faced by current S.E.C. squads by quoting a pertinent passage from John F. Stegeman's The Ghosts of Herty Field: Early Days on a Southern Gridiron.

Dr. Stegeman was, of course, the son of Herman J. Stegeman, who had served the University of Georgia as its dean of male students, its athletic director, and the head coach of its baseball, basketball, football, and track teams. The younger Stegeman followed in his father's footsteps, playing end for the Bulldogs in the 1930s, serving as physician and counselor to Coach Dooley, and writing the definitive history of Georgia football from 1891 to 1916.

The following paragraphs from Dr. Stegeman's book concern the 1910 football season in the Classic City. "McWhorter," naturally, is Bob McWhorter, Georgia's first all-American and the namesake of the University's athletic dorm. "Sanford," equally obviously, is Dr. Steadman Vincent Sanford, the University of Georgia president and University System of Georgia chancellor whose support for athletics made him the namesake of Sanford Stadium.

Wrote Dr. Stegeman:

In Georgia's first game against Locust Grove, a preparatory school, McWhorter scored five touchdowns in the short time he played, the final score being 101 to 0. Then, against his old team-mates of Gordon [Institute], he scored seven times in a game that was cut to three quarters. One of the Gordon players was Howard McWhorter, Bob's brother, who was asked why it was so hard to drag the Georgia halfback down. "He was too shifty to tackle so we tried to grab him around the neck," said Howard. "The trouble was that he didn't have any neck."

For those who attempted to stop the Georgia back by diving for his powerful legs, the experience was a painful one, and the Gordon boys did not try as hard the next time around. Just chasing McWhorter proved to be a dangerous pastime, and almost was fatal for E. G. Cromartie, a Gordon end. McWhorter once ran the length of the field, followed by Cromartie, who made a dive for the Georgia back at the goal. When the Gordon player got to his feet, said the Journal, "he fell down from exhaustion." He was carried off the field in serious condition. It turned out that, just before the game, Cromartie had eaten "heartily of cabbage, ham, and ice cream," a diet not ordinarily recommended for athletes who had to race the likes of Bob McWhorter. The youngster recovered, but a worried Director Sanford pledged that Georgia would never again play football against a prep school team.

Let's give credit where credit is due here, folks. The next time you hear someone criticizing S.E.C. out-of-conference scheduling, feel free to remind them that, almost a century ago, Georgia took a bold stand against lining up games against high school teams. Surely that counts for something, right?

Go 'Dawgs!