Debates within the Southeastern Conference are almost always contentious, but the 2013 offseason seems to have taken that to another level, particularly over the issue of scheduling.
And let's get one thing straight. LSU fans have very strong thoughts on it, because there's no denying their team got the short end of the stick on the topic this season. I can admit that, and so should everybody else. Nobody in this is objective. Some fans want to preserve their traditions. Others want to try and make sure their team has the easiest road possible. The coaches involved are all out for making their own jobs easier as well, whether that's with a lighter load or mollifying boosters that want to make sure they can still stick it in the faces of their buddies from the rival school. The faster we can stop pretending there's any nobility in a sports scheduling debate, the faster we can all talk about this like adults. And that's why fans on the other side of this debate need to get something straight.
I don't care about any of the permanent rivalries.
No, it isn't Alabama's fault that Tennessee has become an automatic win the last few years. Hell, I'm pretty sure the Vols will get theirs back in that rivalry someday. Tennessee has too many resources to stay down forever, and the right coach will right that ship -- be it Butch Jones, his successor or his successor's successor. Likewise, Auburn will start making noise against Georgia (and the Western Division) sooner or later.
But why should LSU have to change its schedule, so that Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia, can play?
Traditions are a huge part of what forms our emotional attachments to college football, and I would hate to see them go away. College football is different from the NFL and it should stay that way. Of course, traditions do go away. Texas A&M doesn't play Texas anymore. Neither does Arkanasas, save the odd non-conference series. Nebraska and Oklahoma don't play each other, and haven't regularly, in some time. Likewise Florida and Auburn, or Florida and Miami. As recently as 2011, LSU did not play a single conference game under the lights in Tiger Stadium, a tradition that goes back to 1931.
But LSU will play at night again. That tradition isn't dead. Florida will play Miami again this season, and Auburn will certainly be back on their schedule eventually. Texas can still see their old SWC rivals in bowl games. Traditions don't go away just because schedules change, and I reject the notion that the Bama/UT or UGA/Auburn games would go away if the SEC no longer required a locked cross-division opponent, either. Sure, they may have to make some special accommodations. Out-of-conference matchups in the years where it's not the rotation, but with two (or three, in the case of a nine-game schedule) rotating cross-divisional games, it would be incredibly doable. Might the programs involved have to make some difficult decisions with regards to their other non-conference games? Sure. But Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia should be the ones making these choices, and these sacrifices, if they want to preserve their traditions. Not LSU.
There are a lot of ideas out there on fixing the SEC schedule. Eight games. Nine games. Division-only records determining division titles. This modified version of a plan advocated by Spurrier is certainly interesting. Hell, for all I care, give teams an option regarding the locked inter-division game, and adjust the scheduling rotation around that. You'd still have some schedule imbalance, but at least then the schools would be making that choice for themselves, rather than having it dictated to them.
And that's the key word in this whole debate: choice. A program might not be able to choose the opponents on a conference schedule, but it's not too much to ask that those opponents aren't dictated by the choices of other programs.