LSU Tigers: Joe Alleva
“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.”
We share all the revenue and expenses yet we cannot have a balanced, fair, equitable schedule. LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times since 2000, and Bama has played them eight times. Is that fair?” -- LSU athletic director Joe Alleva
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- The SEC announced on Sunday evening that it is sticking to eight conference games and the 6-1-1 format, with a new requirement for playing a nonconference game against a power five conference team mixed in. The announcement means many key rivalries involving cross-division teams will survive.
- Quarterback play has been a point of emphasis in spring football for Arkansas. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, quarterback Brandon Allen and the offense struggled when throwing the ball during the Red-White spring game on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.
- One of the touchdowns in the Razorbacks' spring game was scored by a special guest: Canaan Sandy. The 31-year-old lifelong Arkansas football fan who has Down Syndrome got the memory of a lifetime on a touchdown run.
- Kentucky's "Air Raid" offense may bring passing to mind first, but it was the running backs who had the big day in the Blue-White spring game on Saturday in Lexington, Ky., as Josh Clemons (93 yards) and Jojo Kemp (90 yards) led a quartet of backs who combined for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
- Back to the scheduling front, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva voiced his displeasure in the league's decision to keep a permanent cross-division rival because of the competitive imbalance that results, including the Tigers playing Florida each year. "We share all the revenue and expenses yet we cannot have a balanced, fair, equitable schedule," Alleva said.
- Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said he's welcoming the SEC's scheduling format, particularly when it comes to nonconference opponents.
- Ole Miss and Mississippi State both have work to do for future schedules when it comes to adding nonconference opponents that fill the power-five requirement. Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said, "It's not like shopping at the grocery store. You have to go and find someone who thinks you're a good match, too."
- A Q&A with Georgia signee Lorenzo Carter, who said he almost signed with LSU before choosing the Bulldogs on national signing day.
- There's a little bit of mystery surrounding the assault charges involving Texas A&M defensive end Gavin Stansbury, who was arrested and later released on those charges earlier this month.
Once again, the SEC knows what it's doing when it comes to protecting its product.
Sunday's announcement from the league that teams will continue to play eight conference games while adding an annual nonconference game against a power conference is another good idea, as the SEC gets ready to enter the college football playoff era.
With the new playoff committee taking strength of schedule into consideration when deciding on the four teams that will make up the playoff, SEC commissioner Mike Slive wanted to take appropriate measures to make sure his league has every opportunity to fill one, or even two, of the spots. It doesn't matter that the SEC has won seven of the past eight BCS national titles, the committee's job will be to be as thorough as possible when selecting teams. Slive -- and the rest of his SEC partners -- made sure strength of schedule wasn't an issue.
Translation: We aren't going to be left out.
I think it's pretty safe to say that way more often than not, the SEC is going to get its conference champion in the four-team playoff. Its past speaks for itself, making it very hard to keep the champ from earning a shot at winning the national title. But we also know that nothing is a given in this world, so the league acted.
This will now (thankfully) take away one of those cupcake games used to pad stats and force all 14 teams to step out of their comfort zone each season to face a tougher out-of-conference opponent. It not only makes teams' résumés stronger, it makes for a much better product for fans and players.
The addition of a stronger nonconference foe means the SEC didn't have to worry about a nine-game conference schedule. Another good move.
While playing nine makes the league that much tougher and allows players to see every school in the league during a four-year career, it makes winning the SEC, well, that much tougher. And this is a product that isn't broken. The SEC went to the final eight BCS title games, all with only eight conference games during the regular season.
Why change that? Why beat up your title contender even more?
A nine-game conference slate would mean that the SEC champion would play 10 conference games before the playoff. That's a lot of wear and tear on your prized fighter.
What will have to be looked at on a more consistent basis is the rotation of the one non-division opponent for teams. It's clear that in the past few years there hasn't been much balance in that department, and LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who sees Florida every year as the Tigers' permanent crossover opponent, isn't happy:
"I'm disappointed in the fact 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 on Sunday. "I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally, but we don't share our opponents equally.
"Since 2000 LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples."
We have to remember that this is a cyclical sport, but I think you'll start seeing the league pay attention to this more when assigning the rotating team.
Overall, the SEC got it right with its new scheduling format, as it prepares for life outside of the BCS.
Alabama coach Bear Bryant famously once said that it “happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team” and that when the home crowd was at its loudest, standing on the field with the sound waves beating down was “like being inside a drum.”
If it’s possible, Tiger Stadium might get even louder this fall, once a nearly completed construction project at the south end zone encloses that end of the stadium.
“I suspect the noise will be a good, quality 10 decibels higher,” cracked Les Miles, who is 57-7 at home since taking over as the Tigers’ coach in 2005.
LSU fans at the April 5 spring game were able to see the project in its finishing stages. What was once an open-ended south end will feature about 60 suites and 3,000 club seats by the time the 2014 season begins, plus 1,500 general public seats and a pair of video boards at the corner of either end zone.
Athletic director Joe Alleva recently wrote in a letter to fans that the expansion will push the stadium’s capacity from 92,542 to beyond 100,000 -- making it one of just seven across the country to surpass the century mark.
“It’s beautiful. It’s just rising up,” Miles said. “You can really see where the [video boards are] going to be. It’s always been magnificent, it’s just going to have more.”
The stadium’s reputation has expanded along with its seating capacity since it opened as 12,000-seat facility in 1924. It was at 78,000 by the time LSU completed its original upper-deck expansion in 1978. It reached its current capacity with the 2006 completion of a $60 million renovation of the west upper deck. Before the south end zone construction project -- which the Tiger Athletic Foundation said would be privately funded -- the most recent major renovation came in 2009, when LSU added a 27-by-80 high-definition scoreboard at the north end zone.
Such renovation projects sometimes have a way of altering the playing conditions within a stadium, particularly when it comes to the wind that affects kicks and punts. A reporter’s question on that subject actually provided Miles with an opportunity to deliver one of his trademark wacky responses after the Tigers’ spring game.
“We’re going to do a dynamic wind-change study. It’s going to have to do with confetti and confetti droppings,” Miles said with a grin. “For instance, you section it off -- and I just want you to know we learned this by how they’re searching for that plane [Malaysia Airlines Flight 370] -- basically you’re going to drop confetti in one area, the pieces are uniformly cut and then you watch where it goes and you film that. And one section over, you drop it. And one section over, you drop it. And you bring it out to the 50 and you map it all the way back.
“Certainly we’ll keep that to ourselves after we find that out. But I’m not certain we’ll do that, either.”
That was Miles’ unique way of saying that he doesn’t think the new addition will have much of an impact on field-goal tries, meaning that stadium aesthetics and game-day decibel level will be the most noticeable changes once the project is complete.
“For us, the 50-yard line has a pretty breezy feel. And then back in to both sides, [the wind] really quiets pretty comfortably, and I think that’s going to be consistent,” Miles said. “It just appears that way.”
DESTIN, Fla. -- If Florida coach Will Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley have their way, both LSU and Florida State will stay on the Gators' schedule regardless of how many SEC games are on Florida's slate.
It's a good call by Muschamp and Foley because both games are big for the program, and big for the money pot. Anyone who knows anything about Florida football recognizes the bitterness and enthusiasm the Gators' rivalry with the Seminoles, which dates back to 1958, exudes.
"The Florida State game is very important to us," Foley said. "I don't see that changing."
Muschamp understands LSU's stance on moving from the current 6-1-1 format to a 6-2 format, which has two crossover rotators and no permanent opponent, but he believes this game is too important to scrap.
"It's a great game for our league," Muschamp said. "I've been on both sides of it as a coordinator and now as a head coach. It's a national game for our league.
"At the end of the day, a 6-2 format is probably the fairest format -- if you want to be honest -- but I do enjoy the rivalry."
Miles, whose Tigers already share a division with Alabama and Texas A&M, doesn't want to have to continue playing one of the East's top teams every year if other squads don't face similar challenges.
"I think you play your division, rotate two teams [from the other division]," Miles said. "Everybody in the country can honor and visually see that that's the honest, straightforward way to do it."
I understand where Miles is coming from. Alabama and Georgia are dealing with permanent opponents who have fallen in recent years, while LSU played 11-win teams in Florida and South Carolina last year, going 1-1 against them. This fall, the Tigers host Florida and play at Georgia, both of which will probably be top-10 teams entering the fall.
Alabama's East opponents are Kentucky and Tennessee (permanent), which both have new head coaches.
“I'm totally opposed to permanent opponents," Alleva said. "It has nothing to do with Florida. I think it’s a competitive disadvantage to every team in the league to have a permanent opponent. I think they all should rotate. It’s better for our fans, it’s better for our players. We have players who never get to play against some SEC teams. So from a competitive standpoint, from a student-welfare standpoint, from our fans' standpoint I think we should just play six in our division and rotate the other two.”It's going to be tough for LSU to get rid of Florida because of other more historical crossover rivalries, such as Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been adamant about not getting rid of those games and said a hybrid format with only some teams having permanent crossover opponents hasn't been discussed.
"The rivalry games are important," Slive said. "Otherwise I would have given you the [scheduling] format last Monday."
One rivalry the Gators aren't high on is the one against Miami. This fall, Florida will play Miami for the fifth time since 2002, but Foley doesn't consider the rivalry, which was hot before the 1990s, much of a priority -- especially if the SEC moves to nine conference games.
"You never say never, but that's not high on the agenda right now," Foley said. "For me to sit here and say, 'Well, we'll do that down the road,' there's too many unknowns in scheduling right now. If you're at nine conference games plus Florida State, I'd probably tell you it's unlikely. There's been no conversation between us and the University of Miami."
Now, it's about getting the fans excited too.
LSU coach Les Miles said during a Wednesday news conference that the Chick-fil-A bowl game -- between his No. 8 Tigers and No. 14 Clemson in a matchup of 10-2 teams -- is one of the better bowl pairings of the season. He added that with several players from the area, Atlanta is a place where his guys "love to play" and that Clemson is an opponent they can embrace.
And both Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva seemed to endorse Chick-fil-A Bowl CEO Gary Stokan's claims that their bowl is "BCS without the letters" and is consistently rated as one of the top three or four bowls in terms of how it's run -- regardless of where it is in the bowl pecking order.
Stokan seemed to find the talk of possible fan apathy quite obscure.
He said they are expecting their 17th straight Chick-fil-A Bowl sellout, the second longest streak of bowl sellouts behind the Rose Bowl. He said the bowl could sell out by Dec. 17. The New Year's Eve game has little competition for sports TV audience and he said LSU's 2005 win over Miami is one of the highest rated games in ESPN television history.
If there's dissatisfaction with LSU's bowl placement, you didn't see it Wednesday. Alleva and Miles seemed pleased enough and the big winner is the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which managed to land a 10-game winner from the SEC despite being sixth in the pecking order. One late touchdown by Alabama was all that kept LSU from winning the SEC West, playing for the SEC championship and possibly for the national championship.
"We are ecstatic to have LSU," Stokan said.
If he has his way, Atlanta will become a frequent home of national title contenders.
The city is making a bid to host semifinal and national championship games starting in 2014 when college football goes to a four-team playoff. Atlanta is close to getting a new stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, a 20-year-old former Olympic Games venue in good condition but already the 10th-oldest in the NFL. With its facilities, its city and its ambition, The Chick-fil-A bowl already doesn't feel like a bowl that would only get the No. 5 or No. 6 team in the SEC.
Do you think the talks with Arkansas were ever serious for Les Miles? Did Miles use it as leverage for more money?
Miles used the word "sincere" to describe his dialogue with Arkansas over its job opening. That's probably a good word choice because it reflects that Miles took it seriously and listened, but falls short of any suggestion that Miles was ever anywhere near leaving Baton Rouge.
LSU's president, however, wanted new dormitories. So Long, ever the deal-maker, had a compromise: Build the dorms as part of the stadium expansion. So Tiger Stadium was expanded by 10,000 seats to 22,000 and housing for 1,500 students was added within the walls of the stadium, creating an exterior to the stadium that looked like a stadium-shaped dormitory.
Eighty years and numerous stadium expansions later, Tiger Stadium currently seats 92,542 and will expand to close to 100,000 seats with construction due to start this fall on the stadium's south side -- the old dorms were no longer used, but sat in disrepair, as did many of the older parts of the stadium.
He's caught in a search for a men's basketball coach where a local candidate has emerged in Johnny Jones. But the North Texas coach isn't universally the local favorite. And that will make for an interesting and difficult dynamic for Alleva to navigate.
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"I read (athletic director) Joe Alleva's comments in the paper today describing what the next coach needed to be - integrity, discipline - and what he was describing was Coach Johnny Jones," Brown said.
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Top SEC running backs returning in 2015
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