Last week, the SEC did what the SEC does: put winning ahead of everything else. Ignoring the trend in college football, the SEC kept its eight-game conference schedule, even though it means there will only be one rotating opponent on each team’s schedule every year. So much for being a “conference”, the SEC is now two small conference with a scheduling alliance and a championship, basically what the Mountain West and Conference USA are.
While I won’t consider myself an expert on SEC politics, I understand that of the seven permanent cross-division rivalries, two are historically important: Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia . The newly christened Missouri–Arkansas border rivalry is also an important game to play every year, even though the two schools don’t have much history. While the four other rivalries are all well matched (Florida-LSU, Texas A&M-South Carolina, Mississippi State-Kentucky, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss), but aren’t as essential to the respective program’s history. Each of these schools could just as well play a two rotating non-division games a year.
New found rivals
I’m not saying that the Third Saturday in October and the Deep South’s Oldest rivalry shouldn’t be played every year. I’m not saying that Arkansas and Missouri can’t start up a good border war. The team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, had their top rivalry ripped away by Big 12-Texas politics, so I’m sympathetic to their plight. What I am saying is let’s not have Mississippi State and Kentucky play every year just because four other schools have to have cross-division rivals (When I googled “mississippi state kentucky” I got one football image in the first two pages).
Vital that these two teams play every year?
Not as vital as keeping these rivals together
To be a real conference, the SEC needs to play a nine game conference schedule, like the ACC will when they go to fourteen. The Big 12 and the Pac 12 already play twelve, and the Big 10 and Big East will likely both go to nine soon. (Of course, part of the motivation for the ACC, Big 10, and Big East to play nine conference games is to get Notre Dame to join a conference.) If you are only going to have one rotating opponent every year on the schedule, you are no longer a conference. The possibility now exists for a massive imbalance between the divisions of the SEC.
The SEC gave the typical reasons for not wanting more than eight conference games: Florida and Georgia, who play at a neutral site, would be disadvantaged because they would only have three home games every other year (which already happens). Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina want to keep their in-state rivalries together. But I hear the bragging by SEC fans: our conference is so tough, we only need eight conference games a year. To that I say, if your conference is so tough, why are you always teasing Texas for being too soft to play in it?
But I get it in this regard: the SEC is about winning championships, not just conference but national. While I’m not a fan of this decision as a whole, I do respect the drive to win, which is hard enough to do in college football as it is. The SEC is so great as a conference, they can only play eight conference games a year, and yet, it still gives fans quality games at home. Hopefully, the SEC will get so add two more teams and establish four four team divisions, so scheduling can be a little easier.