The SEC dropped some new schedule info last evening that riled up the SEC and CFB Twitterati into a raging hot mess of complaint and jokes. What's changed, so you ask? Well, not much:
The Southeastern Conference on Sunday announced the format for future football scheduling that is a continuation of the existing format and adds a strength-of-schedule component that requires all schools to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis. The announcement comes after a vote of the league's institutions.
So basically, it's business as usual with the addendum that you are now bound by law to schedule someone from a conference worth a damn, beginning in 2016, which was pretty much happening anyway. In 2013, the only team to NOT schedule a major conference opponent was Texas A&M, which will again be the case in 2014. True, Kentucky didn't play against an opponent from one of the four major conferences described above, but they do play Louisville every season, then of the AAC and now of the ACC.
South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida all maintain a yearly non-conference opponent with built-in rivalries. Most of the other SEC schools without said advantage have been diligent about booking marquee match-ups over the past several years: Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn. That leaves A&M and Vanderbilt as the two programs needing to get with the program, a far cry from the "SEC SCHEDULES ONLY CUPCAKES" national nonsense that seems to turn up, primarily from West Coasters who think the Pac-12 rocks and rolls because they play 9 conference games, a far more difficult task than all the "weak non-conference opponents the SEC schedules."
No Nine Games
Speaking of 9 games, that may be the major forfeiture here by the league's institutions vote. From the Godfather himself:
"The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games," Slive said. "In fact, just last year, five of our schools comprised the top five toughest schedules in the nation according to the NCAA and nine ranked in the top 20."
Slive essentially looked at the Pac-12 model and said, "Yeah, don't even care about that." Realistically though, this is about money. If you follow pro wrestling, an oft-repeated line is about the "Authority" doing "what's best for business," even if the people don't like it. It's a wonderful bit of kayfabe in the wrestling world, but it echoes here too. Consider the options:
1) In a given year LSU faces nine SEC foes, six of which come from their division, one of which is Florida (more on this in a bit) and the others are a non-divisional rotational team. It's highly likely LSU would then be asked to play Vanderbilt or Kentucky along with UGA/USC, to ensure scheduling balance.
2) In a given year LSU faces eight SEC foes, six of whom come from their division, one of whom is Florida, and the others are a non-divisional rotational team from the SEC and a major-four conference opponent. Now you are talking trips to New York, California, and hell, even Lambeau Field.
You tell me what's the bigger draw: LSU vs. Kentucky or LSU vs. [Insert any power conference team here, even the bad ones]. It's harder to get people to show up to watch LSU dismantle Kentucky than it is to get people to show up to watch them dismantle a team they may never see LSU play again in their lifetimes. We're not privy to the information, but I'd wager good money the gate alone for LSU/Syracuse in '17 will trump any LSU/Kentucky game in the past decade... and Syracuse is awful.
Truly, though, the major drawback is that by rotating only a single non-division opponent, trips to Athens, Columbia and Columbia become far less frequent. Sure, Nashville and Lexington, too. If the conference expands again... then what? Well that's another discussion, but this is the cost of business, because at the end of the day...
It's "what's best for business."
Permanent Non-Division Opponents Remain Intact
Another major decision regarded opting to keep the current opposite-division regular opponents:
"Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries," said Slive. "It has been a hallmark of the SEC over our history to be able to make continued progress while also maintaining traditions important to our institutions."
For many LSU fans (and Florida fans for that matter), playing one another yearly outside of the SEC Championship Game proved a source of frustration. The game is typically one of the biggest national-title tests for either team throughout the season. Typically, we've seen the loser wilt as the season wears on. It's been a big-time draw, garnering national viewing eyes on several occasions. That means big $$$$$ for the conference and both the schools.
Yet, many LSU/UF fans hate it and see it as an unnecessary obstacle on the path to playing for a national title. We talk about all the time over here, how fans are too fixated on winning national titles and not enjoying the journey. How does lopping off one of the of biggest games of the season, on a yearly basis, help any of that? This is a great, great game and well worth preserving for that alone. Forget the ensuing implications, let's watch some damn good football.
Another thought here is that non-divisional permanent scheduling, as a whole, is stupid. This is something that undermines the entire concept of conference and divisional play. If you think it's stupid for LSU to play any non-division opponent regularly then you can't say it makes any sense to preserve a divisional schedule. Why is one any less sacred than the other? Because they arbitrarily assigned a direction to a group of schools a little while back? Something that changed even as recently as two years ago? And will soon be changing again?
Slive's argument for this is that it is rooted in tradition, something preserved in only two, maybe three, of these matchups: Bama/Tennessee, Auburn/Georgia, LSU/Florida (of late). Really what he's saying is "Hey, we want our three most historically kick ass schools from one division to play our three most historically kick ass schools from the other division every year. And hey we want the same teams to play each other every year because people like hating things. Rivalries make money. Rivalries make lifetime fans."
Again, it's "what's best for business."
Sub-Argument of "Tradition Matters"
Slive's heavy emphasis on tradition draws ire from some LSU folks, who watched the "tradition" of playing Arkansas on Black Friday go by the way side just last season in the name of preserving a tradition from the new kid in town. If Slive's comments seem disingenuous, it's because they are. He couldn't give a shit less about tradition, if tradition isn't making the conference, and him, money.
I suppose I understand the rationale of the relatively "unfair" nature of preserving one school's traditions at the cost of another. But then I think, what's the tradition of playing Arkansas on Black Friday? Is it really something we hold that dearly? Texas A&M played Texas 42 times on Thanksgiving Day, beginning in 1901. That's pretty rad, and the fact that they want to invite us to the party is pretty rad too.
Not to mention, the idea of two divisional foes squaring off yearly in a game of import on Turkey Day in an all-eyes-on-the-SEC spectacle?
It's "what's best for business."
But It's Just Unfair!
"I am very disappointed that the leaders of the SEC disregard the competitive advantage that permanent partners award to certain schools. It is definitely an advantage that should not exist in such a great league," Alleva told The Advocate on Sunday night.
"We share all the revenue and expenses yet we cannot have a balanced, fair, equitable schedule," he continued. "LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times since 2000, and Bama has played them eight times. Is that fair?"
I respect that Big Daddy Joe is seemingly looking out for the best interest of the program here, but it's as if he lacks any historical depth at all on the issue. I've never particularly cared for this line of thinking, which typically starts with "Well if we had to play Tennessee every year..." and devolves into more nonsense from there.
Firstly, it's not Alabama's fault, at least not directly, that Tennessee fell from power. In the 90s, these were two powerful, nationally contending teams doing battle on a yearly basis, much like we've seen from LSU and Florida in the past decade. In the 90s, LSU took it on the chin from Florida, save '97, much like Tennessee is now. How would you feel if LSU was resigned to play Vanderbilt as a result of that? These things are cyclical and even out over time.
Schedules are built years in advance, and it'd be pure nonsense for the university or the conference to try and play a guessing game as to who will or won't be good, even in three year's time. And you know what, people are gonna pay money to watch LSU/Florida play. They are gonna watch that on TV. You know what people don't want to see? LSU sludge through Vanderbilt again and again and again.
And you know what? It hasn't been a problem. Guess which two teams top the SEC in winning percentage since 2000? LSU and Florida.
Yeah, it's what's best for business.