The Value of Bye Weeks

USA TODAY Sports

Alabama complained, the SEC listened. But how inequitable was it?

One of the constant refrains we have heard from Tide fans when we talk about schedule inequities is that Alabama once had to play six teams coming off byes. Alabama fans complained loudly about it, and are still complaining about it, so the SEC passed a rule regarding the number of teams on an SEC schedule coming off a bye. The SEC made sure that particular scheduling inequity would never happen again, so LSU shouldn't ever talk about schedule inequities affecting the Tigers ever again because, er, well, I've never been clear about that part.

It's a ridiculous argument on its face. Alabama fans are saying "we once had a problem with SEC scheduling so we complained loudly, and the SEC moved on the issue immediately. Therefore, LSU shouldn't complain about scheduling issue because, er, our experience shows it works and we don't want that."

But it's also built on an assumption that playing teams coming off of a bye week is a huge disadvantage. I decided to look at the data to see if that's actually true. How much impact is there to playing a team coming off a bye week?

I went through the schedules of every SEC team since the conference expanded to twelve teams and looked at how each team performed against SEC opponents in weeks after a bye week. I excluded games against out of conference foes because most of those games were against teams on the level of Tulane, and I was trying to keep the quality of opponent somewhat constant. I also did not include games in the SEC title game after a bye week because those games were not on the initial schedule. We're looking at scheduling.*

*But, in case you're interested, teams playing in the SECCG after a bye week have not done all that well. Alabama routinely played Florida in the 90s after having a bye and routinely lost. Their big win in 1992 came when they did not have a bye week.

How did teams do coming off a bye week?

Since 1992? 162-152-2.
Last 10 years? 60-59.

Yeah, that means having a bye week before you play an SEC team has been almost meaningless in the past ten years. The reason no one outside of Alabama fans really cares about the six games they played against teams coming off of bye weeks in 2010 is that it really isn't that big of a deal. There's probably some advantage to having a bye week before a big game, but not much of one. Quality of opponent is still a much larger factor in a team's schedule difficulty.

But let's look at how each team has done coming off of a bye week:

Team

Since 1992

Last 10 Years

Alabama

17-6-1

7-3

Arkansas

7-18-1

2-9

Auburn

12-10

4-4

Florida

23-4

8-1

Georgia

17-9

8-2

Kentucky

8-14

2-7

LSU

16-12

7-4

Ole Miss

12-20

1-10

Mississippi St

15-15

5-8

South Carolina

10-10

7-1

Tennessee

21-12

7-5

Vanderbilt

4-22

2-5

OVERALL

162-152-2

60-59

Not surprisingly, the biggest impact on a team's record coming off of bye is a team's own quality. But even taking into account team quality, Florida has been beyond awesome coming off of a bye week. They go from a great team to darn near unbeatable. In case you were wondering, the only time Florida has lost a game coming off of a bye in the past ten years was when they lost to Georgia in 2011. Georgia has been similarly outstanding in their past ten seasons coming off of a bye.

On the flip side, while it's not a surprise to see that Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have been terrible coming off of a bye week, what is going on at Arkansas? Arkansas has been a pretty good program over the past decade, but they have been downright dismal coming off of a bye week. Similarly, LSU has been decidedly mediocre coming off of a bye week despite winning ten games in seven of the past ten seasons.

Taking it year by year, SEC teams usually hover around .500 as a group. There's a few crazy years here and there:

Year

Record

2012

7-4

2011

5-5

2010

4-5

2009

3-5

2008

8-8

2007

7-3

2006

6-2

2005

5-12

2004

7-8

2003

8-7

2002

6-9

2001

11-12

2000

6-9

1999

8-9

1998

8-6

1997

14-9

1996

11-12

1995

11-5

1994

8-10

1993

11-5-1

1992

8-7-1

2012 was the first year in about half a decade in which the SEC did not play about .500 coming off of a bye week. There's a few outliers here and there going both ways (2005, 1995, 1993), but the conference as a group tends to hover pretty close to .500 every season.

This isn't to say Alabama was wrong to complain about playing so many teams coming off of a bye week. It was pretty clear that teams were manipulating their schedule to get a bye week before playing the Tide, and the SEC responded to the Tide's legitimate complaints to make sure that this sort of scheduling inequity wouldn't happen again.

What confuses me is how Alabama fans then claim that this shows that LSU fans' scheduling complaints are somehow illegitimate. Doesn't the Alabama example show that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Alabama complained, and the SEC acted. LSU complained, and the SEC did nothing. And Alabama fans brought up the bye week issue as if this doesn't support LSU's case.

This gets to the heart of LSU's complaint. Alabama complained about a scheduling inequity that, honestly, isn't a huge factor. It was unfair, but not greatly unfair. LSU is complaining about a scheduling inequity that is far greater. Alabama played two teams in the East last year that went a combined 3-13 in conference. LSU played two East teams that went a combined 13-3. This year, LSU is scheduled to play two East teams that went a combined 14-2 while Alabama is playing two teams that went a combined 1-15.

At the end of the day, the quality of opponent matters the most. LSU is playing a far more difficult schedule than its divisional rivals this season and the last. I don't think it is out of line at all for LSU fans to point this issue out and lobby for change. After all, complaining worked for Alabama. Why are our complaints illegitimate?

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