I’m going to get to my ideal SEC in another blog (the 16-team conferences I’ve been presenting in this series; I had omitted Missouri originally), but I wanted to first address the current 14-team SEC now that is is official.
What drives me crazy about SEC expansion is there is no way to make it work out as well as it does right now. Also, Texas A&M and Missouri are not an upgrade. They’re mostly going to be second-tier teams. But since it’s happening, it’s worth talking about how it should work.
Putting Missouri in the East adds ridiculous travel times to Missouri and to the eastern teams (at least for Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina; the rest are all right). I don’t think that’s productive. But since that’s how it’s starting out, I hope they at least let Missouri play Arkansas as an inter-division opponent. I guess Texas A&M- South Carolina isn’t any worse than South Carolina-Arkansas was. South Carolina isn’t as badly placed geographically as Arkansas either. Tennessee and Georgia are a lot closer to South Carolina than any current SEC team is to Arkansas.
Also, maintaining an 8-game schedule means that if you split up teams, they’re really split up. They’re not going to play each other twice in a five-year period like non-annual opponents do now. It would be twice in a 12-year period, unless they decide to do away with annual inter-division opponents.
I have one suggestion that I think does a good job of combining competitive balance and keeping rivalries in tact. I would call the divisions North-South, except Auburn and Arkansas would be in geographically incorrect divisions, but this was the only way I could find to keep the following rivalries together at the same time: LSU-Arkansas, LSU-Alabama, Auburn-Georgia, Georgia-Florida, Alabama-Auburn, Alabama-Tennessee. It had the added bonus of keeping Tennessee-Florida together.
Kentucky– Miss. St.
Vandy– Ole Miss
South Carolina– Texas A&M
LSU-Auburn would be split up (this will upset people of my generation and younger), but that only started being an annual series when the SEC expanded before the 1992 season. They had played one another only 8 times in the 49 seasons prior.
Ole Miss (as well as Mississippi St.) would be split off from Alabama (which I think would mostly upset older people), but the Rebels would keep Vandy, Mississippi St., and LSU. They would also keep the more recently-created rivalry with Arkansas. I think Arkansas and Georgia are geographically appropriate annual series for the Rebs. Florida and Texas A&M aren’t quite as good, but as I said, nothing works out perfectly here.
I think I did a good job for Arkansas here. They have a team slightly to the North, the two teams most directly to the South (LSU and Texas A&M), and the first SEC team to the Southeast. Vanderbilt might have been all right, but I didn’t see a good way to do that. Arkansas-LSU was a big pre-war rivalry, but there were a couple of Cotton Bowls (1947 and 1966) and a 4-game series in the between the two, and it’s been a good series since Arkansas joined the SEC. The winner has even claimed a trophy. I’ve already mentioned the benefits of Missouri. Arkansas would also begin playing old Southwest Conference foes Texas A&M every year (of course they’ve played two great games in Dallas the past two years…Jerry can just start writing the SEC a big check every year, it can be the Cocktail Party West.)
I also got the Hogs out of that ridiculous annual game against South Carolina, not that South Carolina would be happier about this. Texas A&M wouldn’t be thrilled with South Carolina either, but the other choice would be Kentucky, which makes even less sense. Plus, I thought we might as well keep Kentucky-Mississippi St. together. They’ve been playing one another every year as it is, and there weren’t better pairings available.
It’s also a good way to integrate Missouri. They would have the short trip South to Arkansas, they go almost due East to Kentucky, and then they don’t have to go too far to the South for Vandy and Tennessee. Auburn and South Carolina aren’t very good trips, but at least it would be an average of one per year. That’s better than having them play South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida every year. (Alabama would be the other team, but I think that’s actually closer to Missouri than Tennessee is.)
This is the best way I could figure out to keep it generally East-West (this would actually be more like Northeast-Southwest).
Texas A&M– Auburn
Ole Miss– Vandy
Miss. St.– South Carolina
At first, I had Alabama paired with Texas A&M. That would actually be closer, but I thought it was more important to make sure LSU and Alabama kept playing. This would separate LSU from Auburn and separate Alabama teams from Mississippi teams as well.
As an LSU fan, I liked the first one better. I’m not interested in playing Missouri every year. I certainly don’t think Florida fans are either. This keeps more of the current SEC East together though. The only one that would be taken out would be Florida. So Georgia might like this better, since they would continue all of their current annual rivalries, a few other teams might prefer this due to continuity, but I think they would be out-voted.
As for the inter-divisional rivalries I’ve chosen for this format, LSU-Alabama, Ole Miss-Vandy, and Florida-Georgia are obvious. I thought the rest were just the best geographic pairings. Missouri and Kentucky are the teams farthest north. Arkansas and Tennessee are pretty much on a line to the south of that. Auburn and Texas A&M are two of the more Southern teams, leaving Mississippi St. and South Carolina in between. Mississippi St. could be paired with Auburn though, to maintain one of the Alabama-Mississippi series.
I have another North-South idea. It would take Ole Miss and Arkansas from the West in exchange for Georgia and Florida. Arkansas of course will be the closest SEC team to Missouri, but Ole Miss is actually approximately the same distance from Missouri as Kentucky is. Arkansas and Ole Miss don’t have the history of Florida-Georgia, but Ole Miss is the closest current SEC team to Arkansas and will be second to Missouri. Also it makes sense because Arkansas would be in the division with Vanderbilt, which is next-closest after Ole Miss. Anyway, here it is:
Miss. St.—Ole Miss
The team with the most adjustments would seem to be Ole Miss. LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama were a good historical combination for the SEC West. But Ole Miss does have that traditional rivalry with Vanderbilt, I think maintaining the newer rivalry with Arkansas makes sense, as mentioned. I think Tennessee-Ole Miss could be a good rivalry, particularly in Western Tennessee. Eli and Peyton would enjoy it as well.
Florida would lose Tennessee, South Carolina, and Vandy, but they would keep LSU and Georgia and get Auburn back. Also, Florida-Alabama is a good border series. Of course, there is a competitive-balance issue, but as I’ve said before, that’s not a static thing. I think I still prefer my first proposal, but I find this one interesting. A benefit of this one as compared to the other one is it keeps Georgia-South Carolina and LSU-Auburn.
Unfortunately, this would not take advantage of the history between Arkansas and Texas A&M. I don’t think Arkansas would miss the more Southeastern members of the current SEC West too badly. I already stated the logic behind having them play Missouri.
Tennessee would miss Georgia and Florida, but they keep Vandy, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Ole Miss is closer than Florida anyway, although of course Arkansas isn’t as good as Florida. Tennessee makes more sense for Arkansas than the other way around.
Potential lost rivalries
You can decide this for yourself, but I just wanted to make a list of the lost rivalries the first proposal would have that the third one won’t and the lost rivalries the third one will have that the first one won’t. The first proposal would lose Auburn-LSU, Auburn-Miss St., Florida-Kentucky, and Georgia-South Carolina. The third proposal would lose Miss St.-Arkansas, Ole Miss-LSU, Ole Miss-Auburn, and Florida-Tennessee.
The lost rivalries common to the first and third proposals would be: Auburn-Arkansas, Alabama-Arkansas, Florida-South Carolina, Florida-Vandy, Georgia-Tennessee, Georgia-Kentucky, and Georgia-Vandy.
The lost rivalries from the second proposal would be: Arkansas-Auburn (all 3), Alabama-Arkansas (all 3), LSU-Auburn, Ole Miss-Auburn, Ole Miss-Alabama, Miss. St.-Auburn, Miss St.-Alabama, Florida-Kentucky, Florida-Vandy (all 3), Florida-Tennessee, and Florida-South Carolina (all 3).