There is no more exhilerating feeling than to be shot at and missed. On a variety of fronts, the SEC's announcement today of details of its new scheduling plan was a moment of relief akin to being fired upon yet not slumping over in the saddle. Why?
- The South's Oldest Rivalry lives on. Georgia/Auburn remains alive as an annual rivalry, despite very real threats of its demise. As one of the writers of a blog which professes to hate Auburn (in an institution rather than personal manner, of course), I cannot view this as a bad thing. This rivalry was, for many Bulldog fans, the one line which if crossed would have driven them into the streets with pitchforks. Crisis averted.
- The rest of the perennial slate ain't bad, either. Alabama/Tennessee and LSU/Florida remain alive. Pairing Arkansas and Missouri makes good geographic sense. South Carolina fans will find a way to bitch about having to play Texas A&M annually, which is good, because there's a certain segment of Gamecock fans who would be really lost without a reason to bitch about how they're being persecuted. Some, Les Miles for example, have argued that the pairings of Mississippi State with Kentucky and Vanderbilt with Ole Miss give those schools an unfair advantage. I would liken these matchups to Usain Bolt giving a quartet of Special Olympians a 3 second head start in the 100 meter dash. They're not going to win despite valiant efforts. Might as well make it interesting for the rest of us.
- Seeing LSU fans in Athens less than once a decade. Sure, under this schema we won't see many Western Division foes on a regular basis. Some of my favorite visiting fans have been from cross-divisional schools LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. And while I've been to Tuscaloosa and Oxford I haven't made it to a game in Baton Rouge yet. It's now quite possible that I never will. Unless I pack up and head that way on a Bulldog offweek, which might be the best time for that trip anyway.
- Rabble, Rabble, Easy Schedule, Rabble, Rabble. Yes, theoretically it is possible that Hugh Freeze could build a juggernaut at Ole Miss so that the Rebels' eastern opponents would be Vanderbilt and Kentucky. At the end of the day it's still the SEC and every game is still pretty damned hard. The sun doesn't shine on the same dog's rear every day. Teams rise and fall. This is where Les Miles' vague proposal to seed teams or something falls apart. The Florida team that went 8-5 last season was not the same as the one that won the 2008 national championship. And while Miles might not remember, LSU was bowl eligible for only 3 of 10 seasons during the 90's.
- Yeah! There's still room for Delta State on the schedule! Make no mistake the "scheduling flexibility" to which SEC officials and athletic directors have been referring is, to some extent, the flexibility to schedule pushovers for low-risk, stadium-filling home games. I'm on record as saying this kind of freedom is not a good thing. But as one of the few SEC schools with a reasonably formidable instate, out-of-conference rival on its annual slate, this makes some sense. South Carolina and Florida should be pretty happy as well. They're not going to be dropping Clemson or Florida State, respectively, if the league moves to a nine game slate.
The SEC should have stuck with 12 teams. I mean no offense to Missouri and Texas A&M, but what we have now is a 3-eyed, 2-tailed dog of mixed up pedigree. Now it's just a matter of figuring out what tricks we can teach the poor critter. This particular setup preserves the best of the conference's traditional rivalries. Sorry South Carolina/Arkansas advocates, but nothing which began during the Clinton administration can fairly be called a "traditional rivalry".
Is it a little unwieldy? Sure. But I for one am looking at this awkward pubescence as a necessary step toward a full-fledged 16 team SEC. I don't want a 16 team SEC, but it's gonna happen. I know it and you know it. I'm just glad that we were able to avoid losing our oldest conference rivalry in the push. Not seeing Mississippi State or Arkansas more than once every 6 years is a fair trade for that. Not visiting Starkville more than once a decade is just a bonus. Once the game became about picking the best of our bad options, this one was the clear winner in my mind.
Am I wrong about this? Should I be more upset? Let me know in the comments. Until later . . .