How I'd organize the new SEC scheduling format with each team's permanent rivals
Let’s get this out of the way. Not everyone will be happy.
There will be people who see the SEC’s new scheduling format — whenever that comes out — and cry foul. They’ll claim either that their team got screwed or that their team not having rivalry game “X” on the schedule is the beginning of the end in college football.
I’m well aware of the opposition. I acknowledge it and don’t mean to diminish it by saying this:
The sport is changing, and we’ll all deal with it.
With Oklahoma and Texas coming to the SEC in 2024, we’re going to have a new scheduling format. It seems extremely unlikely that we see something like 8-team divisions, especially with how rare non-annual crossover teams face off in the current scheduling model. I hope you didn’t hold your breath on Georgia traveling to College Station when A&M joined the SEC in 2012 because that still hasn’t happened.
My guess is that starting in 2024, the SEC will go to a 9-game conference schedule with 3 permanent rivals and 6 rotating home-and-homes. Why? It finally makes sense for the SEC to play 9 conference games with the new 12-team Playoff beginning in 2024. You can go 9-3 and make the field. No longer will there be the unofficial “2-loss line” that has largely been a barrier to entry during the 4-team Playoff era.
The SEC has always gone about its conference scheduling with the Playoff in mind. That’s the case once again. There’s increased incentive to play more Power 5 teams because there’s more room for interpretation of what a weak 10-2 schedule looks like compared to a solid 8-4.
Of course, the 1-7 model with 1 permanent rivalry game and 7 home-and-homes would allow the SEC to stick at 8 conference games. It would avoid the headache of having to cancel/reschedule 38 instances from 2024-30 in which an SEC team already has 4 nonconference games lined up. The downside, of course, is that you’d have a bunch of SEC rivalry games that wouldn’t be played annually.
So if I had to guess today, yes, I believe the SEC will go with the 3-6-6 model. What would those permanent rivalries look like, you ask?
Here’s my best possible breakdown (don’t yell things at me until I get to explain):
- Alabama — Auburn, LSU, MSU
- Arkansas — Texas, Texas A&M, Mizzou
- Auburn — Alabama, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
- Florida — Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss
- Georgia — Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina
- Kentucky — Florida, MSU, South Carolina
- LSU — Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
- Mizzou — Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Carolina
- MSU — Alabama, Ole Miss, Kentucky
- Oklahoma — Texas, Texas A&M, Mizzou
- Ole Miss — Auburn, Florida, MSU
- South Carolina — Georgia, Kentucky, Mizzou
- Tennessee — Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt
- Texas — Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Arkansas
- Texas A&M — Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas
- Vanderbilt — Tennessee, LSU, Auburn
Yes, there are teams with more challenging annual rivals than others. Would I rather have the permanent rivals that Kentucky and Ole Miss got as opposed to Tennessee and Vanderbilt? For sure. I’m acknowledging that.
There’s still so much more parity with the 6 rotating home-and-homes instead of being in a more favorable division, wherein 75% of the matchups came from in the current scheduling model. I tried to make sure that everyone had at least 1 permanent rival of a team that played in a national championship game in the 21st century. Yes, I realize some teams have 2 such matchups. That’s inevitable in a conference with 7 teams that played on that stage at least once in the 21st century.
My absolutely, gotta-have-it games were:
- MSU-Ole Miss
- Texas-Texas A&M
That doesn’t seem like a lot because it’s not. That doesn’t mean I think less of any other rivalry games. It just means that in order to do this exercise successfully with some sort of competitive balance for all parties, you have to be willing to do away with some annual rivalries, as painful as it is.
I love Auburn-Georgia, but is it fair to make 2 of Auburn’s 3 annual rivals Alabama and Georgia? No way. You have to look at this through all lenses and not strictly through a sentimental one. Obviously, I tried to keep as many rivalry games as I could, but these were the ones that for whatever reason, didn’t perfectly line up and wouldn’t be played annually:
Again, I love those rivalries and I don’t have a dog in the fight. They just didn’t fit with the caveats I tried to cover.
Here’s the other thing to keep in mind. It’s not like we’re about to go a decade without seeing those teams play. The longest drought they’d go is 2 years. In a way, it could add to the buildup for when they do play.
Think of Alabama and Georgia. They don’t play every year, obviously. I’d be stunned if the new scheduling model pitted the conference’s 2 best teams against each other. But when they do play, either in the regular season or the postseason, there’s a unique buildup to it. Sure, it helps that they’re usually playing as top-5 teams with massive implications, but that could be the new normal for Alabama-Tennessee after the Vols finally got over the hump.
If you’re more frustrated with my model from a competitiveness standpoint, look at these schedules side-by-side and tell me what you see:
Hmmmmmm. Not much difference, is there?
What if I told you that “Team X” was Kentucky, AKA the team with the more favorable permanent rivals and “Team Y” was Tennessee, AKA the team with the less favorable permanent rivals?
Even with the favorable permanent rivals, Kentucky would still have to face Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU. And just so you don’t think I loaded up the schedule to try and prove a point, look at when the home-and-homes rotate the other way. UK would have to face Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
That’s sort of my point in all of this. You’re not going to skate by in the new format, even if you do end up with the more favorable draw with permanent rivalries. Winning the SEC got harder, which is saying a lot considering that the conference champ went on to play in a national championship in 16 of the past 17 years.
There’s no perfect model for complete parity, but this comes as close to it as any that I’ve seen.