Should we keep that AMAZING rivalry with Mississippi State?
With the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri last season, the SEC schedulers did their best to keep a reasonable schedule in place. They continued scheduling each team to play each division opponent once, 3 at home and 3 on the road, keep their cross-division rival, and then play one another cross-division team once, splitting those last 2 games home and road. I completely think they did a good job with the basic setup of the schedule. In fact, the word “balanced” was used several times in the press released about the schedule.
The problem with this idea of “balanced” scheduling is it far too often leads to unfair scheduling as well. When we talk about a college football system that ridiculously doesn’t decide things on the field when determining a national champion, it seems you would want as fair a schedule as possible to control what you can control most. But take a look below at the 2 cross-division team each SEC member plays this season. In parentheses is where each of those opponents was ranked in the SEC preseason poll:
Alabama: at Kentucky (7), Tennessee (5)
Texas A&M: Vanderbilt (4), at Missouri (6)
LSU: at Georgia (1), Florida (3)
Ole Miss: at Vanderbilt (4), Missouri (6)
Auburn: at Tennessee (5), Georgia (1)
Miss St: Kentucky (7), at South Carolina (2)
Arkansas: at Florida (3), South Carolina (2)
Georgia: LSU (3), at Auburn (5)
S.Carolina: at Arkansas (7), Miss St (6)
Florida: Arkansas (7), at LSU (3)
Vanderbilt: Ole Miss (4), at Texas A&M (2)
Tennessee: at Alabama (1), Auburn (5)
Missouri: at Ole Miss (4), Texas A&M (2)
Kentucky: Alabama (1), at Miss St (6)
Now while the SEC would call this “balanced” for the fact that each team will play every cross-division opponent over the course of 5-6 years, I would argue this is a dumb way to schedule these games. Why? Because you are forcing some teams to play a more difficult conference schedule than others. And the conference schedule is something teams can’t control. If South Carolina wants to keep Clemson or North Carolina on the schedule, that is their choice. But they have no choice on which SEC West teams they play every year.
Now, in their case, it worked out for them this year. The Gamecocks get to play the 2 worst teams in the SEC West. The team picked ahead of them, Georgia, has to play 2 opponents who are at least predicted to be better. How is that fair or balanced?
Why, over the course of 5-6 years, does every SEC East school HAVE to play every SEC West school? Just for the sake of it looking and feeling good? Why does each school have to have a PERMANENT cross-division rival? How many of those permanent games are actually “rivalries”? Kentucky-Mississippi State certainly isn’t. Texas A&M-Missouri? Don’t think so. Ole Miss-Vanderbilt? Laughable. The only cross-division rivalry that is seen as an actual RIVALRY by the schools is Alabama-Tennessee, and that is still not their primary rivalry. Florida-LSU is always a nice matchup, but those schools are not rivals. So why do we do it? It is all nice and fairy tale-like, but it also doesn’t provide the most fair barometer of determining the champions of both divisions. And in the end, isn’t that what we would like to see. So, here is my suggestion:
THE 2 CROSS-DIVISION GAMES EACH SEASON ARE NOT DETERMINED UNTIL THE SUMMER BEFORE THE SEASON
By then, SEC officials have a pretty good idea of which teams are going to be the best and which teams are going to be the worst. Could it turn out they were wrong? Of course. Nothing is guaranteed. But it’s certainly better than the current schedule, which had Alabama playing Tennessee and Kentucky 5 years ago. We knew UK and Alabama would be playing in 2013 before any of the current players were on campus. Where is the intelligence in that?
I would set the dates of the games well in advance, years if necessary, so the school’s know which date they will have a home game and which they will have a road game. But, they will not know the opponent until June 1 or July 1. Schools still have the ability to plan, fans still have the ability to book hotels and plane tickets well in advance, and the schedule becomes more fair on a yearly basis.
So, what do you think? Are you happy with the SEC schedule, especially in the cross-division games? Are would you like to see more flexibility in the games and the elimination of the permanent rivals?