It might be time to hang a new nickname on Louisiana State University’s athletic teams. Oh, sure, you know them as the Tigers, Fighting Tigers, and Bayou Bengals. Fans of another generation will also remember LSU’s great 1958 team and a legendary defense nicknamed the Chinese Bandits. (If you’ve ever wondered why the school’s band plays this during games, now you know.)
But it might be time to apply a fresh moniker to LSU’s teams. If Scott Rabalais’ Christmas column from The Baton Rouge Advocate captures the mood in the Tiger fanbase these days, “Chickens” might be a more fitting handle.
In case you missed it, the long-time Louisiana scribe claimed yesterday that “the time has come” for LSU to consider leaving the Southeastern Conference:
“LSU is a charter member of the SEC dating to 1933, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there forever. Not if there are other, appealing options out there.”
Rabalais claims the SEC is “imbalanced” with unfair football scheduling and bad bowl politics. He also claims that the conference office “frequently indicates it is ignoring LSU’s concerns and needs.” His answer? The Big XII.
There’s nothing more annoying — for someone who has no rooting interest in an SEC team — than hearing fans of all 14 schools claim that their school is the one most-hated by Mike Slive, screwed over most often by the league office, and repeatedly treated like Cinderella, yada, yada, yada.
Unless it’s someone in the media giving such paranoid beliefs a boost. That’s more annoying. Now, Rabalais also posted a companion piece suggesting that LSU should stay in the SEC, but by posting the “go” piece he opens the topic for debate. And several readers agreed with his “go” take rather than his “stay” take under his story and on LSU messageboards.
Rabalais has a right to his opinion — he’s a darned good writer — and he’s sure to get the backing of a few Tiger fans on his “go” piece. But the idea of LSU leaving the SEC is absurd. Or at least it should be.
1. It’s claimed that the SEC’s makeshift 2013 schedule does “a disservice” to LSU in forcing the Tigers to play Georgia and Florida from the East while Alabama gets Tennessee and Kentucky from that division. Now, there have been times when LSU’s East Division schedule was easier than Alabama’s, but 2013 is the year at hand and therefore it will get 100% of the attention.
In 2012, complaints came out of Columbia (South Carolina would face LSU and Arkansas while Georgia would face Ole Miss and Auburn), Starkville (MSU would have to make a return trip to Lexington), and Columbia (Missouri would have to return to Texas A&M for a third-straight year). Until the SEC arrives at a new permanent plan, complaining will continue. And once the new permanent plan is unveiled… there will be more complaining.
For the 2012 and 2013 football seasons, the SEC has cobbled together schedules with the help of administrators from each school who agreed to give and take in certain areas. They’ve been called “bridge” schedules as the SEC has continued to work to try and finalize its long-term solution. (The likely holdups on that plan are SEC’s new television network and the possibility of further expansion.) But LSU isn’t the only team getting a bad break in next season’s “bridge” schedule. Georgia will have to return Auburn, Texas A&M to Ole Miss, and Ole Miss to Alabama for the second season in a row. The Tigers’ schedule is simply impacted by the ups and downs of the SEC.
Playing Florida is considered by some LSU fans as a real handicap for the Tigers, an insult, a challenge that’s just too tough. But in 2011 the Gators went 6-6 in the regular season. In fact, UF has lost four or more games in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011. Will Muschamp led the Gators to an 11-1 record this past season, but Florida has still had six mediocre years in its last 12. So that’s the great cross the Bayou Bengals must bear?
2. Rabalais — like so many LSU fans — believes “the biggest continuing flaw in SEC football scheduling is the concept of permanent, opposite-division opponents.” Well, it’s not been a flaw when it comes to generating massive television contracts for the league. LSU’s annual tilt with Florida is always a draw. And it’s unlikely the Tiger athletic department has protested the playing of that game by refusing to cash its yearly TV checks.
In addition, we would argue that permanent opponents are one of the best things for the SEC. In 1992, the league split it’s six traditional power teams — Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee — evenly. Three went to the East and three to the West (which is why Auburn is in the West Division rather than Vanderbilt). Then-commissioner Roy Kramer and crew kept two of the league’s signature rivalries alive (Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia), paired the other two “haves” together as well (LSU-Florida), tried to kickstart a rivalry with the league’s new additions (Arkansas-South Carolina), and let the four remaining traditional “have-nots” pair up (Ole Miss-Vandy, Kentucky-MSU).
Would it be more fair or make network executives happier to create more non-marquee matchups each season? Would the league write a refund check to CBS and ESPN in years when Alabama and LSU had bouts with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, respectively, on their schedules?
The other issue here is that football is cyclical. Alabama is a dominant force now, but since 2000, the Crimson Tide has lost nine games in a season once (2003), eight games in a season once (2000), seven games in a season once (2006), six games in a season twice (2004, 2007), and five games in a season once (2001). For all the fear of Bama, the Tide has suffered five or more defeats in six of the last 13 seasons. Alabama is up now, but they’ve had some serious downs in recent years. Eventually, they’ll fall off again as part of the ongoing cycle.
Georgia was just 14-12 over a two-season span heading into 2011. Since then the Dawgs have gone 21-6. Down, then up.
Tennessee has won more SEC football titles than any school not named Alabama and they are the last school to win back-to-back league titles (in 1997 and 1998). But the Vols are now in a down-cycle and haven’t lost fewer than four games in any season since 2004. They will rise again at some point. America’s biggest programs always do.
LSU is currently on an up-cycle (which apparently a few folks in the Pelican State have forgotten or are choosing to ignore). The Tigers have won four SEC crowns since 2001. But between 2001 and 1986, LSU claimed but one SEC title and it was a co-championship in 1988. In fact, in the 14-season span from ’88 to ’01, LSU lost four or more games 11 times and suffered eight losing seasons. That’s right. Eight losing seasons in 14 years.
Perhaps the Tigers should have left the conference during that run of bad football.
As for Florida, well, we’ve already shown you their highs and lows over the past decade. If LSU fans or the school’s administration are too scared to play a team that’s had six seasons of four or more losses since 2002, then maybe it would be better for all concerned if the Tigers did hit the bricks.
3. Rabalais also claims that the “scheduling plan comes out of an SEC office in Birmingham, Ala., that fairly or not has long been seen as being too close to the Alabama campus — geographically and philosophically — for the rest of the conference’s good.”
Tell that one to Alabama fans who watched the SEC office clear Cam Newton to play in the 2010 Iron Bowl game (won by Newton and Auburn). Tell that to Tide fans who steadfastly believed that former SEC commissioner Kramer — a Tennessee native! — worked in cahoots with ex-Vol coach Phillip Fulmer to bring down their beloved Bama in the 1990s.
There are conspiracy theorists wearing tin foil hats all across the SEC. From Baton Rouge to both Columbias to, yes, Tuscaloosa. If only someone could cast a logic spell on all those folks.
The league’s commissioner is put in place by the 14 schools of the SEC. Those 14 schools could throw him out at any time. So when someone claims Slive and the SEC office are showing favoritism toward one school over all the rest — it’s always Kentucky in basketball rather than nearby Alabama, mind you — that person is really saying that 13 league members are okey-dokey with School #14 getting favorable treatment over them.
It’s ridiculous. It’s laughable. It’s illogical.
Ironically, Rabalais and some Tiger fans believe the Big XII would be a good solution for what ails LSU. Uh, yeah. If Tiger fans think the SEC office in Birmingham is pro-Alabama, go for a spin in a league that really has been pushed and pulled apart by a single member. Don’t like Bama playing Tennessee (sniffle, sniffle) while you play (whine, whine) Florida? Go enjoy a league where Texas raked in $163 million in revenue in fiscal year 2011-12. That’s just $57 million more than second-place Big XII breadwinner, Oklahoma. It’s also about $50 million more than LSU earned in those same 12 months. Would ya feel good about making $50 million less per year than a conference rival, Bengal fans?
Anyone pushing for LSU to move from the SEC to the Big XII should do themselves a favor and call the administrators at Texas A&M, Missouri, Colorado, and Nebraska. It might be smart to get the real skinny on life in a fiefdom before volunteering to become a peasant
4. Next on the list of complaints — “We don’t get to go to the bowl we want.” Another old standard. A number of SEC schools’ fans spew this gobbledygook every year. Unfortunately we now live in a world with conference tie-ins to bowl games. Because of that, there are only a limited number of destinations available to schools. As a result, someone is always going to get the short end of the bowl stick.
Them’s the breaks.
If college presidents don’t like the current set-up and would be willing to part with their guaranteed bowl tie-in money, the problem could be fixed with a simple bowl draft, an idea we’ve pushed in the past. Short of that, there will always be some team that slides down the bowl list, has to go to the same town year after year, or faces a rematch with some team its played umpteen times in previous bowl games.
This year, LSU was one of six SEC teams with two or fewer losses to finish the season ranked inside the BCS top 10. As everyone should know by now, bowls don’t pick teams based solely on rank. Attendance and television drawing power are the bowls’ biggest concerns. This year, the Tigers landed in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson. That’s a match up of two top 15 teams that have played just twice in more than a century. That bowl also happens to have the seventh-largest payout of all 35 postseason games.
So what’s the rub? LSU wanted to go to the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers beat Texas A&M and are ranked one spot ahead of the Aggies. The SEC office should have — in some folks’ view — demanded that the committee in Arlington pick LSU instead of a Lone Star State team that happens to feature the most exciting player in college football. But since mean ol’ Slive wouldn’t fight for the Bayou Benglas, they’ll have to make their fourth trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl since 2000 and their fifth since 1996. The horror.
This isn’t the first time a highly-rated SEC has fallen all the way to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Tennessee went to the Georgia Dome as the #6 team in the nation in 2004. Anyone recall LSU fans or Louisiana media members barking about the Vols’ plight? Neither do we. That’s because fans only notice/care when it’s their team that’s getting “slighted.” Another example: Is anyone outside of Nashville taking up for a Vanderbilt squad that’s been to three bowls in five years but has had to stay inside its home state each time?
A word of warning for moaning Tiger fans: Tennessee lost its 2004 Chick-fil-A game to an 8-4 Clemson team, 27-14. Here’s hoping LSU’s players are focused on their opponent and not SEC exit strategies.
Rabalais finishes his column thusly: “But after years of mounting frustration in the SEC, perhaps a fresh start would be best for LSU under the right circumstances.”
Years of mounting frustration? Since 2001, LSU is 123-30 overall with four SEC titles, five league championship game appearances, two BCS crowns, three BCS title game appearances, and millions and millions of dollars in SEC checks cashed. If Tiger fans are “frustrated” by that, then there’s no longer a debate over which league school has the whiniest, most spoiled fans.
Does anyone recall the SEC being too tough for LSU in 2007? If the Tigers had been in any other conference and lost to the likes of Kentucky and Arkansas, there’s no chance in Hell Les Miles’ team would have been given a spot in the BCS championship game. The simple fact is that without the SEC’s reputation, LSU would have never become the first two-loss team in history to play for the national crown.
The league also didn’t seem too tough for the Tigers last season. Miles led his bunch to a 13-0 record, a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and a win over — mygoshhowdtheyeverdoit — Florida in Baton Rouge. Unless Slive drew up the Tigers’ offensive game plan for last year’s BCS title game, it’d be pretty hard to hang last season’s disappointment on the SEC office or any other scapegoats.
But as long as expansion and realignment are hot topics, there will continue to be vocal minorities at several schools who’ll hoot and holler about their team leaving the SEC. A Lexington Herald-Leader columnist suggested a while back that Kentucky should look to the Big Ten. The Wildcats have been mentioned in connection with the ACC as well. It’s been suggested that Vanderbilt should head elsewhere. And the Big XII has floated word to Arkansas that the Razorbacks would be welcome to join Texas’ band of step-brothers.
Yet the SEC still has no exit fees.
That in itself should tell you that while some fans moan and a few columnists fan the flames of dissension, none of the league’s schools are believed to be seriously considering any escape plans.
And if one of the league’s members does pull the ripcord? Good riddance. And good luck to the school and its fans as it deals with Texas, Jim Delany, or a wobbly ACC.