The future format of the SEC schedule was a hot topic last week at the conference's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla. When the dust settled, the debate between the eight and nine-game schedules resulted in a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The conference announced on Friday that the current eight-game, 6-1-1 format (six division games, one permanent cross-division rivalry and one rotating cross-division game) will stay in place through the 2015 season.
After that though, it's anybody's guess.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the only coach in favor of the nine-game schedule, and is likely joined in that camp by SEC commissioner Mike Slive. After all, the SEC Network needs programming and the SEC won't put itself at a disadvantage if the selection committee uses the eight-game schedule against the conference.
One thing is abundantly clear—there are a lot of chefs in the SEC's scheduling kitchen.
Coaches, athletic directors, presidents and administrators all seem to have opinions; which is part of the reason the future schedule is in limbo.
So let's simplify it with some scheduling alternatives. Not all of them will please everybody, but most will serve the long-term goals of the SEC.
The Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) Plan
LSU head coach Les Miles has made it abundantly clear that he wants an eight-game schedule with two rotating cross-division opponents. That would eliminate the Tigers' permanent cross-division rivalry with Florida. More importantly though, it would erase traditional rivalries Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. Georgia from the schedule on the annual basis.
That can't happen. After all, not only are those games part of the foundation of the SEC, they are compelling matchups from a programming standpoint.
So protect them.
The Pac-12 protected the California rivalries when it expanded to 12 teams and the Big Ten will protect the Indiana vs. Purdue rivalry when it adds Maryland and Rutgers for the 2014 season.
It isn't rocket science. Whether it's in an eight or nine-game schedule, lock in those two particular rivalry games to be played every season and let the other cross-division games rotate around them.
Is it fair? Not really.
Those four programs—Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia—are typically going to be competitive every year (although not recently), and more times than not, it would be a competitive disadvantage to play those games every year.
If you're looking for fairness in scheduling, you're not going to get it. It's a myth. This format may not make everybody happy, but it would keep everybody content. That should be the goal, not this impossible dream of "fairness."
The Back To The Basics (BTTB) Plan
This plan is also one that works in either the eight or nine-game schedule format.
Eliminate divisions and protect rivalries.
Awarding a championship based on geography is a simple solution to division splits, but it's arbitrary. Power shifts from east to west and back again, so why purposefully eliminate half the field if the true goal of a championship game is to reward the best team?
So protect a set amount of rivalries. In Auburn's case, the games versus Alabama and Georgia. For Alabama, the Iron Bowl and the Tennessee game. For LSU, keep Texas A&M and Arkansas. If two isn't enough, protect three or four (although that'd be a bit more challenging with 14 teams in the conference).
Some rivalries would be arbitrary and not make a ton of sense, but that really doesn't matter.
This would keep rivalries intact and allow players to play through the entire conference during their careers, which has been brought up as a goal.
"I think every player should have the opportunity to play every school in his career," Saban told ESPN.com last week.
Develop some sort of set rotation around the rivalry games and let the top two teams in the standings play in the SEC Championship Game.
Is there a chance of seeing a rematch in Atlanta? Sure. But that exists anyway.
In 2010, Auburn played South Carolina for the SEC title for the second time that season. The Gamecocks were at best the fifth-best team in the SEC that season, and seeing the Tigers face off with Arkansas, LSU or Alabama again would have been far more intriguing.
This rule would take some work.
Specifically, NCAA rule 188.8.131.52 (C) allows for conferences to hold a championship game between champions of two divisions would have to be altered. But we're already thinking outside of the box in college football these days, so let's be a little bit creative.
The Jim Mora (JM) Plan
"Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs!"
Actually...let's talk about playoffs.
With the new College Football Playoff (CFP) being another hot topic in addition to scheduling, let's marry the two.
Start the season a week earlier (or eliminate one of the two bye weeks when the calendar calls for them), finish the regular season the week before Thanksgiving and play two SEC semifinals on the Friday and/or Saturday after Thanksgiving.
This can be accomplished through the current divisional alignment with two teams coming from each division or by simply taking the top four. Host the two semifinals on the campuses of the two highest seeds or the division winners, and then play the SEC Championship Game in its traditional spot the following week in Atlanta.
Call it the 8.5-game schedule if you want.
It would satisfy the needs of the playoff selection committee, because the teams that would truly be eligible for the playoff would play the same number of conference games as teams in conferences that have nine-game conference schedules and a title game.
It also would please the conference's primary media partners.
The potential move to a nine-game conference schedule is driven in part by the SEC's desire to provide more inventory to its partners, filtering some quality matchups down to the SEC Network which launches in August 2014.
SEC semifinals wouldn't do much in terms of getting programming on the network, but would be huge draws for ESPN and CBS.
Like the previous alternative, this option would require some changing of the rule book, specifically rule 184.108.40.206.1 on maximum limitations.
What's your alternative SEC schedule format? Do you like the current 6-1-1 setup? Would you keep cross-divisional rivalries? How about a nine-game schedule? Let us know in the comments below.