(This post is not written from a realism standpoint but rather one of hopes and wishes. With the release of the football schedules for the next 12 years last week, it’s clear that a 2-division system will be in place for the foreseeable future)
After the 2011-12 athletic year, the SEC decided to go ahead and drop the traditional 2-division system that had used in college basketball since 1992. This was in large part due to the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M and critics of the move complained that some of the league’s rivalries would be tarnished by the move. For instance, Kentucky and Tennessee played twice a year in college basketball in the regular season every season since 1954. That streak ended in 2014 with the removal of the 2-division system. But, it also ensured a more balanced league with true league standings and a more fairly seeded SEC Tournament. All in all, I was a supporter of the move because despite the fact that the annual 2-time battle with Tennessee and Vanderbilt was lost, you still played every team in the conference at least once during the year.
Well, now it is time for the SEC to do the same for football. Starting in 2003, the schedule was setup so that you had 1 cross-division rival, in Kentucky’s case Mississippi State, and then play the other team’s in the division in consecutive years, home and away. Put in better terms, you were playing the other division’s teams twice every 4 years. And in even simpler terms, Kentucky fans could see Alabama play at Commonwealth Stadium every 4 years. The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri threw a big ‘ol wrench into that system, forcing the old cross-division schedule to go into the trash.
The SEC released the new future schedules last week with a simple premise: teams will play each team in their division, their cross-division rival every year, and then 1 rotating member from the other division. This leads to UK playing teams from the Western Division (not including MSU) about every 6 years. But it also means that you won’t play the other 6 teams in the West but ONCE EVERY 12 YEARS AT HOME. And let’s be honest, 90% of us don’t have the money to travel to College Station, Texas for a college football game. If you had a baby yesterday, that baby will be in the 5th or 6th grade when Texas A&M comes to Lexington for the first time. Then that child will be OUT OF COLLEGE the next time they come to town, if the schedule remains as it is.
I don’t consider this a good thing at all. It basically feels like Kentucky is barely in the same conference as the Aggies. Or Auburn. Or LSU. We barely see them on the field anymore. But if the conference eliminated the 2-division system, this problem could easily be remedied. Here is why:
1. You can keep permanent rivals. Let every team keep 2 permanent rivals on their schedule every year. No team in the SEC has more than 2 rivals that HAVE to be on the schedule. For Kentucky, that would probably be Mississippi State and Vandy……maybe. The point is though that you can keep the main rivalries of the league together. But open the other 6 games in the conference slate up for rotation. This way, you would see every team in your conference on your home field within 5 years.
2. The SEC Championship Game becomes a TRUE title game. When an 8-0 Alabama plays a 6-2 Georgia team in the SEC title game, sure that’s great. But is it really a true title game if a 7-1 LSU team also exists? Why not have the 2 best teams in the league playing in your title game? The reason is because the 2 best teams could potentially knock one another out of the national title playoff. But that’s lame and cowardly.
3. Fan Enjoyment. As I already mentioned, the league should keep fans in mind and realize that for league pride, it sometimes help to have the chance to go see other teams in your league in person. I don’t care how bad Kentucky is, fans want to see Alabama and LSU play. Once out of 12 years is not enough when there are better options.
The 2-division system was built to try and build stronger rivals in the league and create an easier system for the newly created SEC Championship. And that basically worked for 20 years. Now with league expansion, it has begun to feel like much less of a cohesive league. I don’t think eliminating the 2 divisions will eliminate rivalries or competition. The schedule is already unbalanced often as it stands now. And fans will enjoy it better.
What do you think? Are you happy with the way the SEC has decided to schedule football for the future? Or would the removal of 2 divisions make the league better?