Welcome to another offseason in which the SEC botches the schedule. We've been writing about this for a long time, and there's no need to rehash every single issue, but let's get to the most basic one: failing to go to a nine game schedule is stupid.
The most basic tie that binds a conference together is playing one another. It's what builds rivalries, hatred, and interest. Twenty-five years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a single LSU fan who had an opinion on Auburn. Now, they are one of our most loathed rivals. What changed? We started playing them on a regular basis.
LSU and Auburn only played eight times from 1969-1991. Starting in 1992, Auburn and LSU have played every single year. Over half of the teams' all-time meetings have been since 1988. And before 1969? Wow, LSU went 26 years without playing the Plainsmen, a gap from 1942 to 1969. As much as I intensely dislike Auburn, this has been a positive development for the SEC and for fans of both schools. A quality, hate-filled rivalry is the currency of college football.
SEC expansion has also given LSU a tighter bond with schools in the East. LSU has only played Georgia 30 times in its history, 10 of those since 1998. LSU and Georgia went 25 years, 1953-1978, without playing each other despite sharing a conference. There's not as much hatred there, but it's nice to at least get to play the Bulldogs with some frequency. Two traditional powers in the same conference should not go decades without playing each other.
The 6-1-1 schedule in a 14 team league gets us closer to that reality. The bridge schedules have always been a sick joke, and now the SEC is trying to buy off LSU fans by giving us an easy game in Kentucky instead of South Carolina or Georgia. Well, we're not Alabama, always looking for a way to have the easiest schedule possible.
Did you enjoy the Georgia game? Lots of drama? Back and forth scoring, coming down to the final play. OK, losing stunk, but it was a great football game. Hope you enjoyed that road trip, because assuming a normal rotation, LSU is not going back to Athens for a dozen years. But don't worry, y'all. LSU gets to play Georgia in six years.
I was an LSU student when Peyton Manning was at Tennessee. Do you know how many times he came to Tiger Stadium? None. That's okay, at least we got an excuse to go to Neyland to see LSU play Tennessee when he was still there... just kidding. LSU didn't play Tennessee in Knoxville either. One of the transcendent players in SEC history, and LSU fans never got to see him.
To the SEC's credit, the powers that were saw the problem with the old 5-2-1 format, and ditched the second permanent rival for just this reason. It would take eight years to visit every campus in the old format, and four years to play every team. The gap was just too big, so the SEC rightly decided to drop a permanent rival so more teams could play one another.
For these are the ties that bind.
Nearly twenty years later, faced with the same choice, the SEC leadership has decided that Alabama-Tennessee is more important than the rest of the conference. Now, the problem is worse than it ever was under the 5-2-1 format. With the 6-1-1 schedule, it will take 6 years to play every team in the conference, and 12 years to visit every campus.
Why even bother having a conference if we're not going to play each other? The 12 team model worked because the regulated schedule actually made East-West teams play more frequently than they ever had. LSU rarely played Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt, or Tennessee. The Tigers went decades without playing some of its conference rivals. Expansion, ironically, bound the conference closer together. Now, it's drifting us apart again. Weaken the bonds of rivalry, and the conference means less and less.
The simplest solution is going to nine games. The SEC is patting itself on the back for requiring its members to play one tough game out of conference, which is downright embarrassing. The race to the bottom in scheduling has gotten so bad, the SEC had to tell its members that they could only schedule three patsies in a 12-game schedule. How will we ever get by with one quarter of our schedule being near automatic wins? That's a bare minimum, not something to aspire to.
A nine game schedule would allow the SEC to keep permanent rivalries. I'm not inherently against them, and I still think that for as much as I hate them, no school gave up more of its tradition than Auburn when the SEC expanded. They are an East school playing in the West, so some allowances need to be made for them to keep their old rivals.
A 6-1-2 would allow for a team to play everyone in the opposite division every three years, and make a trip to every campus every six. Still not ideal, but a huge improvement over the current system. That's a reasonable compromise for LSU to offer. We don't want permanent rivals, but we can live with them so long as we get to play everyone in the East more often.
But if the Third Saturday in October really means that much to Alabama that no other consideration matters except keeping this ridiculous eight-game schedule, then why don't we re-align the divisions geographically?
At the end of the day, there's a core group of five teams that all want to play each other in some combination: Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee. Honestly, Vanderbilt is in that group as well. So why not put all of those teams, along with South Carolina, in the East?
Oh, competitive balance? This recent run of national champions was pretty West heavy. It's not like divisions are balanced now. The West has won six of the last seven SEC titles, with three different schools each winning two.
Well, that's just the last few years. OK, let's look at the East since expansion: 11 titles to the West's 11. Right down the middle, so pretty even, right? Well, sort of. Florida accounts for 7 of those titles. Outside of the Gators, the East has only won four SEC titles or, rephrased, the same number as LSU since divisional play began.
If the number one factor is "traditional rivals", then why shouldn't the SEC realign? If the argument against geographically logical divisions in "fairness", then why is that same fairness argument invalid against the current schedule?
This new schedule isn't really new, as it is just the bridge schedules extended out forever as the proverbial bridge to nowhere. However, making this change permanent loosens the ties of rivalry. Forget about what's fair, as no one in the SEC gives a damn about fair, this schedule is awful because it makes us less of a conference.
If we are all SEC, we need to play each other more than once a decade. For these are the ties bind and right now, these ties are unraveling.