The SEC is reaching a crossroads. Conference expansion may force their hand to ditch permanent cross-division rivalries. Most of them don’t matter much, but a couple certainly do.
• Auburn-Georgia is the longest continuous football rivalry in the South. The two teams started playing in 1892 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Since 1898, there have been only two years that Auburn and Georgia have not met in football: 1917 (World War I) and 1943 (World War II).
• Alabama-Tennessee began playing in 1901. Since 1928 the two schools have met every year except 1943, when neither fielded a team because of World War II. “The Third Saturday in October,” the traditional date when Alabama and Tennessee meet, is one of the most historical days on the college football calendar.
Clearly the 6-1-1 is neither fair nor equitable.
LSU will play Florida (permanent cross-division) and Georgia (combined 14-2 last year) next season. Alabama will play Tennessee and Kentucky (combined 1-15) next season.
Also worth noting is that neither Georgia nor Alabama played the 1st, 2nd, 3rd place team from the opposite division last season. So does that help? You bet your ass it does.
The current setup is also not ideal to rotate opponents. For example, with the current format, the Gators won’t be going back to Texas A&M for 11 more years. They only will play them twice every 12 years. Does that make sense for conference foes? Of course not.
A 6-2 isn’t perfect, and a 6-3 or 6-2-1 if they eventually expand to 9-conference games, (something they’ve voted against for the time being) is not either. It can’t be perfect with a 14-team league. A 12-team league makes playing everybody tough enough.
So my suggestion, to help preserve these long-standing rivalries is to realign the divisions. It would look like this with the moving team italicized:
EAST- Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt
WEST- LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss
Certainly, the strength of a division will depend of the year. Last year, there were 6 great teams, so essentially based off last year we are simply swapping Alabama and South Carolina. There is no way of knowing if, or when, the Vols, the Hogs, or the Tigers could bounce back to prominence. Could the Rebels be on the verge of something great? Will Vandy maintain? These are questions we will never know the answers to. So don’t freak out if the East looks strong because it has more traditional powers. It was just two years ago the top 3 ranked teams in the country one week all played in the West division, right?
I think this is a terrific idea that satisfies preserving the past and building a more fair and competitive future.