SEC tradition matters but isn't the end-all
April, 28, 2014
By Chris Low | ESPN.com
The SEC traditionalists can take solace.
The eight-game league schedule will remain in place, as well as the permanent cross-divisional foes. That means Alabama and Tennessee will continue to play every year along with Auburn and Georgia, two of the SEC’s most tradition-rich rivalries.
For those of us who've been entrenched in this league for decades or more, saving those rivalries certainly makes sense.
But not at the cost of creating competitive disadvantages and denying players and fans the opportunity to face (or see) every team in the league at least once in a four-year span.
In that regard, the presidents and chancellors got it wrong.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe Alabama-Tennessee cross-divisional rivalry will remain a yearly fixture in the SEC.
It’s a fact that whatever scheduling format the SEC settled on wasn’t going to please everyone. A few wanted a nine-game league schedule, others weren't crazy about permanent foes, and there were some who liked it exactly the way it is.
Ultimately, a nine-game league schedule would allow for the most flexibility, the most balance and still give teams a chance to go out and play a marquee nonconference game.
Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said it best at the SEC spring meetings in May 2013.
“I think we need to play 10 quality games because our fans are going to get tired [of going to games with lesser opponents],” Battle said.
When’s the last time the fans really mattered?
As SEC commissioner Mike Slive noted Sunday, tradition matters in this league. And he’s right. It does.
But the landscape has also changed dramatically in this league over the last 20 years.
Since the days of Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson and Archie Manning, the SEC has added four new teams. South Carolina-Missouri is now a conference game. So is Arkansas-Texas A&M.
The league has been split into two divisions with a title game between the two divisional winners determining the champion. Teams wear gray jerseys, black jerseys ... even specially themed jerseys.
And occasionally, a team that doesn't even win its division has been known to win the national championship.
College football has changed, and if Alabama and Tennessee don't play every year, it’s not going to ruin everything that is sacred about the SEC.
Alabama and Florida, two of the heavyweights in this league, have played all of six times in the regular season since the league split and expanded in 1992. What about Auburn and Tennessee? That game was once a fixture. It would be nice to see Georgia and Alabama play more often in the regular season than once every blue moon. The same goes for Auburn and Florida.
Beat up on Les Miles all you want. But given the way Tennessee has struggled much of the last decade, Alabama playing Tennessee every year isn't quite the same as LSU playing Florida every year.
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and LSU will continue to play Florida every year, a fact that could create scheduling imbalance within the SEC.
This league has always been cyclical, and at some point, it’s reasonable to think that cycle will turn back. But LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has a point, no matter who he might have ticked off with his comments Sunday night.
“I’m disappointed that the leadership of our conference doesn’t understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions,” Alleva told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting. In our league, we share the money and expenses equally, but we don’t share our opponents equally.”
It’s worth noting that LSU’s opposition to playing Florida every year has been much more boisterous than Florida’s in having to face LSU every year. In fact, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley likes having a big-gate opponent such as LSU coming to the Swamp every other year.
So, again, different strokes for different folks.
Alleva’s assertion that schools voted for their own “self-interest” over “competitive balance” can’t be argued. Sure, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are content with playing each other every year. The same goes for Kentucky and Mississippi State. Why trade one of those schools for an Alabama, Georgia or LSU every couple of years if you don’t have to?
Something says there’s also a tinge of self-interest in Alleva’s concerns. Just a smidge, maybe.
At the end of the day, if the league was determined to stick with eight conference games, the fairest way to have structured it would have been to adopt a 6-0-2 format -- six divisional opponents and two rotating cross-divisional opponents.
But as that wise (young) sage, Steve Spurrier, said, “There’s nothing fair about college football.”
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