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Why the SEC Should Ditch Divisions

By Matt Smith
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Under the no-division plan, the teams with the two best records would qualify for the SEC Championship Game, hopefully alleviating the recent trend of blowouts in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December.

First, a caveat: Yes, this is an article in response to a statement made by an old football coach on a radio show earlier this week. It’s May. Radio show quotes are the kinds of things we write about this time of year in regards to college football. Bear with us. Summer flies by, and we’ll be hitting the upcoming season hard before too long.

OK, onward.

On Monday’s The Paul Finebaum Show on SEC Network and radio stations nationwide, former Auburn coach Pat Dye suggested that his former employer move to the SEC East and Missouri move to the more geographically logical SEC West.

It doesn’t take Rand or McNally to know that Auburn, Ala., is much farther east than Columbia, Mo, but when Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the Tigers were sent to the East to maintain an even number of teams in each division.

This switch would allow Auburn to renew old annual rivalries with Florida and to a lesser extent Tennessee, while still playing Alabama annually as a permanent crossover opponent. This, of course, would be at the expense of the Alabama-Tennessee game as an annual affair, which would have to become a twice-every-12-years game if Alabama and Auburn are in opposite divisions

Not great.

What about expanding on Dye’s suggestion, and moving both Alabama and Auburn to the East? This would send Vanderbilt west with Missouri. Almost every notable rivalry, both historical and new age, would be preserved as an annual game. It may also allow for the elimination of permanent crossover games, meaning teams in opposite divisions would play each other twice every seven years (good, not great) instead of every 12 years. However, it would stack the SEC East with five of the six teams that have won national titles in the last 50 years, leaving LSU a favorable path in the redesigned SEC West.

Still not great.

That begs the million-dollar question – why do we even have divisions? No, rules do not require divisions to hold a conference championship game. That is a myth. The rule was changed when the Big 12 recently revived its championship game for the upcoming season.

Current rules do require a full round-robin schedule to be able to hold a championship game without division. Yes, that logic is completely backwards – why do you need a championship game if you have a balanced round-robin schedule? Despite the current regulations, a simple vote of the conferences, a la what happened with the Big 12 Championship Game, could remove that provision. Then, the SEC (and the ACC) would be free to scrap divisions entirely.

From 1992-2002, Georgia and Ole Miss played every season. After Georgia’s trip to Oxford last season, the Bulldogs won’t return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium until 2028. Perhaps even worse, the teams won’t meet anywhere again until 2023. How can teams in the same conference go seven years between meetings?

With no divisions, every team would still play three rivals annually (see below). Each team would then play five other opponents in a home-and-home series over two years, and then the remaining five teams home-and-home the following two years. That way, every four-year player would play every other SEC team home and away.

Under the no-division plan, the teams with the two best records would qualify for the SEC Championship Game, hopefully alleviating the recent trend of blowouts in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December.

Potential permanent opponents under a no-divisions format:

Alabama – Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Arkansas – LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M
Auburn – Alabama, Florida, Georgia
Florida – Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee
Georgia – Auburn, Florida, South Carolina
Kentucky – Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt
LSU – Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Ole Miss – LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Mississippi State – Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss
Missouri – Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina
South Carolina – Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M
Tennessee – Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt
Texas A&M – Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina
Vanderbilt – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Almost every game that comes close to resembling a rivalry is maintained, while allowing teams currently in opposite divisions to meet three times as often as they do now. With 14 teams, two divisions and permanent crossover opponents simply doesn’t work.

Dye’s idea, as stated isn’t feasible, but he is correct in questioning the logic behind how the SEC currently aligns for football. A no-divisions structure allows for more frequent meetings, the preservation (and revitalization) of the conference’s numerous rivalry games, and would likely increase the competitiveness of the SEC Championship Game.

We began with a caveat, so we’ll end with a caveat: The history of decision-making among major college football power brokers tell us that, given how logical this idea is, the chances of it ever actually coming to fruition are small.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.