Oh, this story just won’t go away.
In January, a South Carolina trustee cooked up a plan for the SEC to adopt an NHL-like point system for counting wins within the league — one full point for a divisional win, one half point for a cross-divisional win. That idea came and went. Maybe because the SEC region is such a hotbed for professional hockey.
Steve Spurrier then came out last month and suggested that division games only should count toward determining division champs. This would make the SEC the first major league or conference, college or pro to play games that didn’t really count in its standings. South Carolina-Auburn last year — ultimately, the game that cost USC a trip to Atlanta — would have been nothing more than an exhibition when it came to the SEC leaderboard.
LSU’s Les Miles then came out in support of Spurrier’s plan. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin did likewise late last week.
Now, if you read this site, you know that we’re part of the vocal majority who can’t imagine the league doing any such thing. Even commissioner Mike Slive has said he would have a hard time conceiving a plan in which some SEC games meant more than others. And Georgia’s Mark Richt said he didn’t think Spurrier’s plan would pass muster.
(Perhaps this debate is another reason for the SEC to petition the NCAA to drop divisions as a pre-requisite for a championship game and to just go divisionless.)
As we’ve pointed out, there are scenarios possible under Spurrier’s plan that are much more troubling than what his Gamecocks went through last year. Say Carolina (or LSU or Vandy) goes 7-1 in league play overall. Subtract the two cross-divisional wins which are meaningless and the Cocks (or Tiger or Dores) would finish 5-1. Now let’s say their loss comes to a divisional foe. The foe wins the rest of its division games and thus holds the tie-breaker over Carolina (or LSU or Vandy). But if that opponent drops its two cross-divisional games and finishes 5-3 in league play, don’t you suspect Spurrier (or Miles or Franklin) would quickly complain that the teams weren’t really 5-1 each… their team was 7-1 while the other guy’s squad was just 5-3.
At least Alabama’s Nick Saban seems to get it. Like yours truly, he understands that opponents rotate year to year and what might be an easy schedule this year might not be next year:
“I just think that’s one of those things that’s not always going to be controlled. It’s not manipulated with who you play. We have a rotation, we have to go through it.
I think the other division games you play on the other side are important to our fans and there’s a lot of tradition involved in some of those games. I think if you minimize the importance of those games, that wouldn’t be in the best interest of our league.”
The Tide coach went on to say that he would listen to Spurrier’s proposal in Destin in a few weeks. Here’s hoping the majority of coaches and athletic directors agree with Slive and Saban and Richt rather than Spurrier, Miles and Franklin. If they don’t, we’ll just be addressing this issue from a “change it back!” perspective the first time some team gets “jobbed” (in their view) by the new system.
Interestingly, many supporters of Spurrier’s plan say they favor it because it would create fair scheduling. How long would it take, though, for cries of “Why do we have to play three tough games on the road while they get their toughest games at home” to ring out?
There’s no such thing as a “fair” schedule. Until the SEC mimics English soccer’s Premier League and everyone in the conference plays everyone else twice — home and away — there’s nothing even close. And even then teams would still play on different dates. Injury factors, weather factors, and discipline factors would all play a role in keeping schedules uneven. ”You got ‘em when they were weak, but we played ‘em when they were healthy!”
Spurrier, Miles and Franklin can speak their minds in Destin. But God help the league if they win over their fellow coaches and the ADs and the presidents and the commissioner. We’ll guarantee you right now that such a change would only lead to more belly-aching from more coaches in the future.
SEC games that don’t actually count as SEC games? Yeesh.