published Thursday, April 25th, 2013

SEC slate a dilemma: Cross-divisional matchups create potential imbalances in schedules

Now that spring football is over at the 14 Southeastern Conference institutions, league coaches can debate what has become an annual spring topic: future scheduling.

Due to the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC employed a bridge schedule last season and will use one again for football this year. LSU coach Les Miles believes there is great imbalance with the league's current format of a school having to play all six teams within its division and a permanent foe and a rotating foe from the opposite division.

The Tigers reside in the SEC West and play Florida out of the East each year. LSU had South Carolina as its rotating foe last year and must travel to Georgia in September.

"I wonder about the view of how the champion is decided in the finest collegiate football conference in America," Miles said Wednesday without any prompting. "It's interesting to see how you would compare our schedule with others. I wonder if there should be no permanent partners. I wonder if a computer might pick a fairer schedule by random draw."

Alabama plays Tennessee annually out of the East, faced Missouri last year and will play Kentucky this year. The Volunteers and Wildcats went a combined 1-15 in league play last year, while LSU's opposing duo of the Gators and Bulldogs went 14-2.

League officials could map out football schedules from 2014 to '17 at the spring meetings May 28-31 in Destin, Fla., and there is no shortage of concerns. Even Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has the SEC's most favorable schedule this season, would like a format tweak of some sort.

"One basic theory that I have is that every player should have the opportunity in his four-year career to play every SEC school," Saban said. "If we don't have at least a two-team rotation with the other side, then that doesn't happen. One fixed opponent and one rotation means you're going to play some of the other teams every six or seven years.

"I think it makes it more league-oriented when we play more cross-division games."

Whether or not to keep the permanent cross-division opponent has been a source of conflict since the two new teams joined. The Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries are packed with tradition and managed to survive after last year's scheduling discussion, but other East-West matchups aren't as valued.

In fact, Arkansas plays South Carolina in the current model but has the desire to face Missouri in future seasons.

"We've exhausted this pretty good," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "I know the Florida-LSU game is a good game for our conference, but I totally understand what Les is saying. At the end of the day, that's why you have a commissioner. He makes those decisions, and he'll make a great decision as to what's best for our conference.

"Whatever he decides, we'll go with."

To enhance the rotation, the league could remain at eight league games and use two rotating opponents or go to nine league games with one permanent opponent and two rotating foes. Most SEC coaches have been against going to nine games throughout this scheduling quandary.

"Eight games, by far, is the best thing for the whole league," Vanderbilt's James Franklin said. "Eight games allows everybody the flexibility to solve their problems and build their programs that's in their best interest."

Said South Carolina's Steve Spurrier: "Going to nine wouldn't be good for us, Georgia or Florida, because all three of us have an in-state rival currently in the ACC."

If the league maintains an eight-game schedule with one permanent cross-division foe, the coaches who are upset now are sure to be disgruntled next year as well. After all, it's become a tradition once the spring games are over.

"If we wanted to be fair, we would not have permanent crossover opponents," Spurrier said. "Tennessee's got Alabama, who's been the best team the last three or four years, and that's not fair for Tennessee to have to play those guys every year. LSU and Florida play every year. That's just sort of the way it is, and the coaches don't make the rules.

"Nobody said it was supposed to be fair anyway, did they?"

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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