(Oh Matt Walsh…)
We’ve discussed it briefly on the site this week, but one of the big pieces of news that came from the SEC meetings this week in Florida was the pairing of Kentucky and Florida as “permanent rivals” in the men’s basketball scheduling. With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, changes had to be made to accommodate a growing SEC field. It appears that a format idea has been reached. Each team in the SEC will play 18 games. Two of those 18 games will always come in the form of a home-and-home series with the designated “permanent rival.” Four sets of home and away games of the 18 will be against rotating teams. The final 8 games will be played just once each season (either home or away) against the remaining opponents. Essentially each team will play their permanent rival 6 times every 3 seasons. They will play every other league opponent 4 times every 3 seasons.
The Florida/Kentucky pairing is not necessarily surprising, seeing as both schools have been the only SEC representatives to win a national championship in the last decade. Since Billy Donovan’s arrival, Florida has been perhaps the most consistent force in the SEC next to Kentucky, even surpassing the Wildcats for a spell. Matching the two best SEC teams year in and year out (who also happen to be a big draw for a nationally televised game) as permanent rivals only makes sense, but it does come at a bit of a cost.
Kentucky will not be playing Tennessee in Rupp every season. Kentucky will also not be playing Vanderbilt in Rupp every season. Kentucky will not be playing Missouri in Rupp every season. To me, those are the 3 biggest drawbacks of the new scheduling decisions. Vanderbilt and Tennessee obviously had to be paired as permanent rivals. As big as the Kentucky/Tennessee rivalry has been at times in the past, the two schools (Vandy at Tennessee) reside in the same state. Perhaps even bigger than the loss of having those 3 games in Rupp every season is the other side of the equation. And not just for those 3 schools, but for every SEC school other than Florida. Let me explain…
The Kentucky game is the marquee SEC home game for every single SEC school. When Kentucky comes to town, the opposing team’s rarely have trouble filling their arenas. Even if the school doesn’t normally pack the house for a home game, they do for the Kentucky game. Part of that is due to the excitement and draw of a big name opponent coming in– bringing the opposing fans out in masses to root for the upset or watch the star players. The other part of that is due to the incredible will to travel by Kentucky fans. If you won’t fill your own arena, we will. For the old “SEC East” teams who used to host Kentucky once a season in their home arenas, the scheduling is a huge blow.
Personally, I enjoyed the Tennessee and Vanderbilt games in Rupp every year. I also enjoyed knowing that those will be two of the toughest road environments that Kentucky would have to play in year in and year out. Losing out on one of those 2 experiences each season is a slight downfall to the new set up.
With all of that said, again, I like the pairing with Florida. The only other options would have likely been Tennessee, Vanderbilt or Missouri. Any objections to the Florida pairing, or arguments in favor of a different permanent rival?
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