By now you were certainly aware that the SEC‘s moved to add Texas and Oklahoma to the conference lineup has created a bit of a scheduling dilemma. If the conference maintains its current rigid divisional alignment it’s entirely possible that some SEC East teams may not travel to Austin or Norman until sometime in the 2080s. I’m exaggerating slightly for effect, but only slightly. There are also concerns about competitive balance, travel costs in non-revenue sports, and keeping alive the traditional rivalries that drive fan engagement. Make no mistake, the SEC and it’s constituent institutions are going to make a metric crap ton of money by adding the Sooners sooner than expected and the Longhorns for the long haul. But they’ve purchased a dilemma as well.
It appears that the most likely solution to this headache will be for the conference to give up the divisional model which it pioneered beginning in 1992. In its place schools will likely play a rotating cast of six conference foes and three “permanent rivals.”
It’s a relatively elegant solution to a thorny dilemma. I would argue that an SEC that doesn’t include the Iron Bowl, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, and the Third Saturday in October among others is a Southeastern Conference in name only.
Certainly Florida and Auburn are the primary candidates for two of three permanent slots for the Bulldogs. I’m not sure how to process a UGA football schedule that doesn’t include the Plainsmen and the Gators, and the emergence of such a stitched together, Frankenstein’s monster of a slate is too horrible for me to really imagine.
The third permanent rival for the Red and Black is open to debate. Some would argue that the Tennessee Volunteers are the third most intense conference rival and should get the spot. But remember, the Classic City Canines and Marble City Mediocrity Merchants have only played 52 football games all-time, 30 of them since the SEC went to divisions. Like speed limits and the city of Remerton, this rivalry is purely a bureaucratic construct.
By contrast, the ‘Dawgs have played Vanderbilt 82 times, Kentucky 76 times, and Alabama 72 times. Heck, Georgia has 45 meetings with Ole Miss, even if the Red and Black have only traveled to Oxford three times since Brock Vandagriff was born. That’s to say nothing of South Carolina, which literally needs its once every six years upset of the Bulldogs to keep the city of Columbia running.
in short, there’s plenty of room to debate who the Bulldogs should play every year. And you are more than welcome to have that debate in the comments to this post. But what I really want to hear is something slightly different: who do you want to be Georgia’s permanent non-rival? By which I mean, who is the one school you would be perfectly happy if Georgia never, ever in 1 billion years, until the heat death of the universe played a game against either at home or away?
For example, by my reckoning I have seen Georgia play Mississippi State 3 times in person and 12 times overall. I have literally nothing interesting to say about any of those. I see no reason to do that ever again. Starkville is entirely too far to drive, no matter how good the ice cream is.
Arkansas? I love Sam Pittman, and have nothing particularly bad to say about Razorback fans (in part because my name is neither Houston Nutt nor Gus Malzahn). But for me Arkansas football is like asparagus: I could excise it from my life entirely and not miss it.
And those are just the schools I would be willing to cut solely because they arouse no strong feelings. What about the ones which bring strong negative arguments to the party? There’s an argument to be made for never having to bake like a tuna noodle casserole in the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium on a single Saturday afternoon ever again. Is tooth decay and an aversion to Darwinian evolutionary theory contagious? If I never travel to Knoxville again I’ll never have to find out.
You see, the reasons to cut a fellow SEC school from your football life entirely are as many and varied as the reasons to make one a permanent part of your fall Saturday lineup. I ask you Bulldog fans: who would be your permanent non-rival?