With the SEC spring meetings set for next week in Destin, Florida, a number of football writers from across the country have decided it’s time to weigh in on the league’s scheduling plans. It’s clear to at least three of them that Les Miles and LSU are correct — it’s time to dump permanent cross-divisional rivals in the Southeastern Conference.
Readers of this site know that we feel the SEC’s history is what makes it special. And history is the main reason the permanent rivals still exist. Alabama/Tennessee is traditionally the SEC’s biggest game. Those two schools have won more league titles than any other. More than Florida. More than LSU. More than Georgia and Auburn.
Auburn/Georgia — the deep South’s oldest rivalry — happens to be the other game the league’s leaders have deemed worthy of protection. Those leaders have taken a big-picture approach. The columnists quoted below do not.
Matt Hayes of The Sporting News writes:
“Meanwhile, Alabama has played Florida and Georgia eight times — the lowest of any West Division team. Alabama’s argument is it plays Tennessee, which started the BCS era with a national title but has recently fallen on hard times.
The reality is Florida and LSU are better equipped than Tennessee — now and for the foreseeable future — to win big in the SEC. So where does that leave permanent rotations?”
Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated goes down the same path:
“Alabama-Tennessee has always been a streaky rivalry, but the utter humiliation the Tide have laid on the Vols in most of the past six season suggests this isn’t much of a rivalry at all. Since its win streak began in 2007, Alabama has beaten Tennessee by an average of 23.2 points.”
Today, Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News jumped in:
“With all due respect to UT AD Dave Hart, who’s made it part of his mission to preserve that game on an annual basis, the Tide vs. the Vols is no longer a rivalry. It’s a guarantee game.
When they play in Knoxville, Tennessee gets a crowd and a bruise, and Alabama gets a win. When they play in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee gets nothing but a bruise, and Alabama gets another win.
Meanwhile, while Alabama’s using its permanent cross-division game as a breather to prepare for LSU, LSU has to go through Florida before it even gets to Alabama. Auburn has to prepare for Alabama by climbing into the ring with Georgia.”
So the basic reason for dumping permanent cross-divisonal rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia is: Tennessee sucks and always will.
This is what happens when we in the media spend too much of our time writing and reading tweets. We can’t see anything but the now. Anything past the 140th character qualifies as the distant future. And history? Well, Mandel did go back six whole seasons in discussing the Vols and Tide rivalry.
Shortsightedness is not an asset when it comes to running a conference.
And just as Mike Slive and Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin referred to Texas A&M’s decision to join the SEC as a “hundred-year decision,” league scheduling should take into account the fact that the teams on top today might not be the ones on top tomorrow. Scheduling should be based on historical strength, not current power.
By way of an example, let’s imagine the SEC’s stewards were planning to create a new schedule rotation back in 2002. They would have had a full decade’s worth of records from a 12-team SEC with which to work. Below are those SEC records from 1992 through 2001:
SEC East 1992-2001
|| SEC Record
|| S. Carolina
SEC West 1992-2001
|| SEC Record
|| Miss. State
|| Ole Miss
Interesting. One must wonder whether or not Hayes — if he’d looked at those numbers in 2001 — would have dared to write that Tennessee wouldn’t be equipped to deal with Florida and LSU moving forward. We’ll guess not.
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