Les Miles wants change in the SEC.
While it never rains in Tiger Stadium, a huge cloud of controversy and conference politics will loom large over Death Valley when Florida comes to play LSU on Saturday.
"The Mad Hatter" has a damn strong point. LSU and Florida are on the wrong end of the most egregious rule in the SEC.
The SEC is currently comprised of 14 teams. The conference is divided into two divisions, the SEC West and the SEC East, each of which has seven teams. The team with the best conference record from each division plays in the SEC Championship Game in early December.
Each SEC team plays a 12-game schedule that consists of eight conference games. Each team plays every intra-divisional opponent once a year, which equates to six games. The other two are played against teams from the opposite division. Of the two cross-divisional games, one is a permanent opponent. This is known as the 6-1-1 schedule format.
LSU and Florida are permanent cross-divisional rivals, thus having to play every season. Both schools, who are routinely in the Top 25, should not have to beat up on each other when other schools have more favorable matchups.
|SEC West||SEC East|
In essence, one cross-divisional game is permanent while the other is a yearly rotation between six teams.
Conference expansion watered down the schedule. When Texas A&M entered the SEC West and Missouri the SEC East, the number of cross-divisional games per season shrank from three to two.
Some schools, such as Alabama, benefitted greatly from expansion. The Crimson Tide's yearly cross-divisional rival is Tennessee, a program on a massive downswing since the Phillip Fulmer era.
Alabama did not play Georgia, Florida or South Carolina in the regular season last year nor will it this year. The Crimson Tide's two SEC East opponents this season, Kentucky and Tennessee, had a combined 1-15 record in conference play in 2012.
The same can be said for Georgia. The Bulldogs avoided Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the regular season, which aided them in their run to the SEC Championship Game.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva says every player deserves a chance to play each team in the conference at least once in their career. The current schedule format does not allow this.
Unfortunately, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said at the SEC Spring Meetings the 6-1-1 format will be used in 2014 and more than likely in 2015.
It's likely that the SEC will eventually stretch the schedule from eight to nine games to please ESPN's SEC Network and their massive contract with the conference. The SEC will also need keep pace with the Pac-12 and and Big 12, which already have nine-game schedules. The Big Ten will have one starting in 2016.
Of the 14 SEC coaches, Nick Saban is the only one who voted in favor of stretching the conference schedule to nine games. Coaches do not want the extra grind of another SEC battle while losing the opportunity to beat down a nonconference cupcake.
But even when the schedule lengthens, the cross-divisional rival should still be eradicated. It would still be unfair to those schools with tougher permanent cross-divisional rivals.
The rivalries mean little. Alabama fans will not lose much sleep if Tennessee was not on the schedule every season. Same for every other school in the SEC.
Auburn's fans only care about Alabama. Georgia's top nemesis is Florida. LSU is not even Florida's second top rival, which is Florida State. Gamecock Nation does not get pumped when the Razorbacks come to town.
Ultimately, Miles probably does not care about league fairness. He wants to improve his chance of winning. Playing Florida every year decreases his chances of success if he loses, even though defeating the Gators in 2007 helped propel his two-loss team to the national championship.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp says he wants to keep the rivalry, which makes Miles look like a complainer. But no matter Miles' intentions or which coach wants what, the SEC schedule is skewed and needs fixing.
Should the permanent cross-divisional rival be eradicated from the SEC?
It is feasible LSU loses to Florida on Saturday after falling to Georgia earlier this year, but if the Tigers defeat Alabama later in this season, the Crimson Tide would still get to go to the SEC Championship with one loss while only having to play the bottom feeders of the SEC East.
Sports schedules will always have flaws. But exterminating the cross-divisional rival is an easy fix that would make the conference better, though it probably will not happen. The nine-game schedule in the SEC cannot come soon enough to at least help the problem.
The SEC is currently the best conference in America, but only in a sense that it has the best teams and players. If Slive wants the SEC to live up to its elite reputation, he should restructure the league to a nine-game conference slate with no permanent cross-divisional rivals, and that would make his empire even better.