Auburn vs. Georgia is the South's longest running rivalry. Is that game in jeopardy?
Solving the million-dollar question of how to fix the Southeastern Conference is the question of the day. Member school's athletic directors are vigorously attempting to put together the most productive schedule option possible, while also leaving room to negotiate with CBS on television contracts.
There is no denying the SEC is the blue-ribbon cow during football season for CBS, thus making the conference's scheduling options open up for debate.
With 14 member schools and seven teams in each division, how to determine the format in which to set the schedule is as wide open as Talladega before the big wreck.
Taking a look at each option currently presented, not one stands out as a clear and easy choice.
The problems which arise with the most popular model are easy to spot. Why does LSU have to play Florida, while Mississippi State plays Kentucky? How long would it be before you played every inter-division game at home? How do fans feel about the idea?
Stepping back to look at the big picture, there are simple answers to these questions.
It doesn't really matter why LSU plays Florida, but they do because it's a competitive game. Same for Mississippi State and Kentucky.
It might take 12 years to play inter-division games at home, but who really cares to watch Alabama-Kentucky more than a couple times a decade? Fans won't care about those Auburn-Missouri games not being played more regular as long as Georgia's on the schedule.
Sure, watching Alabama-Florida is intriguing during the regular season, but that's a game fans will inevitably see at some point in the Georgia Dome deciding the SEC champion.
Questions abound, but keeping traditional games between Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia is too important.
A model which has been discussed thoroughly is a nine-game conference schedule. Most coaches seem to be against the idea, but 'Why?' is the real question.
What's the difference between Georgia playing Mississippi State and Georgia taking on, say, Clemson?
Sure, Georgia might see LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M in one season, but only for two years. This leaves many outside the SEC world basically asking, "You scared, bro?"
There's no doubt the SEC coaches are against the idea, but the nine-game schedule is a real possibility. Especially considering many other conferences already play with this format and have less teams.
Rivalries as "non-conference" games is a good idea when heard for the first time. Why wouldn't Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georiga play each season as non-conference opponents?
This option has too many negatives.
Essentially, teams would be playing nationally-acclaimed teams, but getting no credit. Instead of Alabama traveling to Penn State, it would play Tennessee. While both opponents are similar in terms of schedule strength, the rest of the country could raise the question, "Why don't you play anyone of worth outside your conference?"
Secondly, the addition of a game like Tennessee or Georgia to Alabama and Auburn's schedule would create a wild scenario in SEC scheduling. Would the conference leave spots open for these games? What about the games teams have already scheduled in non-conference bouts?
Too many negatives.
When the SEC grew to 14 teams, there was speculation the conference might split Alabama and Auburn in terms of divisions. What a mess that would have created.
Instead, it forced Missouri into the East division, because, let's face it, they are now the blind sister of the orphan. Missouri has no pull. The Tigers bring hardly anything to the table outside of television market.
Sure, their basketball program is phenomenal. But in basketball, division matters not most times. In football, they are the step-child.
But is it possible the SEC looks at realignment as the only other option to keeping the two most important cross-division rivalries in tact? Absolutely.
The talk may be contained by the water cooler, but there is chatter in Destin about this option.
Alabama and Auburn would then play Georgia, Florida and Tennessee every year, not to mention South Carolina who has become a pretty good football team lately.
Talk about a gauntlet to get to the SEC championship game.
While LSU plays Vandy, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas A&M regularly, the best teams in the SEC are going at it every week. Who wouldn't love to see that?
Don't forget, though, the most important player in this is not Mal Moore, Nick Saban, Jay Jacobs or anyone else inside the SEC.
The most important player is CBS.