- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the 14 athletic directors in the Southeastern Conference met Sunday night to vote on future scheduling, there were some opposed to the current format and the cross-division rivalries, but collectively they agreed that maintaining rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia were too important for those fan bases and for the league in general.
“The priority for me was to make sure that we kept the Auburn-Georgia rivalry,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “There’s so much tradition and history there.”
The rivalry, better known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, began back in 1892. There have been a total of 117 games played between the two with Auburn holding a 55-54-8 edge after last year’s dramatic victory over the Bulldogs.
“Our history and heritage that we’ve had with not only the South’s oldest rivalry but also the relationship we’ve had,” Jacobs said. “Coach [Vince] Dooley played here and coached there; Pat Dye played there and coached here; Rodney Garner, and it just goes on and on and on.
“And the proximity, it’s right here geographically next to us. It’s just a great rivalry for our fans, and it was the No. 1 priority for me to make sure that we kept that.”
The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is no different. It began back in 1901 and has been a staple for the league ever since. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers will play on the third Saturday in October, and both sides were vocal about continuing that tradition.
“Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I have strongly and consistently advocated that this rivalry be preserved regardless of any other outcomes resulting from conversations about football scheduling,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in a statement Sunday.
The other five cross-division rivalries have received mixed reviews. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva didn’t hide his feelings about having to play Florida every year as he told the Baton Rouge Advocate that he was disappointed in the leaders of the SEC and how they disregarded the competitive advantage that permanent partners award to certain schools.
“We share all the revenue and expenses yet we cannot have a balanced, fair, equitable schedule,” Alleva said. “LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times since 2000, and Bama has played them eight times. Is that fair?”
Meanwhile, pitting Arkansas and Missouri against each other seems to make sense and could create a new rivalry between the two schools that border each other.
The decision also kept the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt rivalry intact. No, it’s not the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and it’s not played on the third Saturday of every October, but the Rebels and Commodores have played 87 times and haven’t missed a meeting since 1969.
“When people thought of rivalries, they obviously thought of Tennessee and Alabama, and Georgia and Auburn,” Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said. “But we’ve played Ole Miss 87 times, and people don’t realize that. It maybe doesn’t rise to the level of rivalries like those others, but think of the last two games. Both games -- the one down at Oxford that we won and the one that they won up here last year -- were decided in the last minute.
“It’s close enough that their fan base can get up here, and our fan base can get down there. So it is a rivalry, and I think that we see each other as sort of a rivalry.”
Are the cross-division rivalries fair for the SEC? Probably not. Fans want to see matchups like Auburn-Florida or Alabama-Georgia more often. Players want the chance to play every team in the other division at least once during their four years in school.
However, the athletic directors voted and maintaining some of those traditional rivalries was more important.
456dSam Khan Jr.