Winners and Losers of SEC Football Scheduling Announcement
In a release Sunday evening, the SEC announced some schedule modifications that will alter the future of the league—whether they were changes or decisions not to change.
On one hand, the league has stipulated a nonconference procedure where each team must schedule at least one opponent from a "Power Five" conference—the leagues that were formerly known as BCS automatic qualifiers (minus the Big East/AAC).
On the other hand, the league will stick with an eight-game schedule—as opposed to the nine-game schedule that seems to be en vogue with the rest of the country—and preserve the permanent cross-division rivalries between East and West.
Despite maintaining the status quo, the second part of this announcement seems more important as we don't know exactly how much of a difference the nonconference stipulation will make. (For a deeper look at this, here's a good piece from B/R's Ben Kercheval.)
By keeping the cross-division rivalries intact, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and his brain trust have opted, in some ways, for tradition over equity. And as with anything that isn't totally fair, it yielded some winners and losers.
Here's a look at who is which after Sunday.
Winner: Mississippi State
Kentucky is slowly improving.
Second-year head coach Mark Stoops has the fanbase invigorated and just landed one of the most surprisingly good recruiting classes in the country. There's a realistic chance that, for the first time in what seems like a long time, the Wildcats could be building toward a quality football team.
But I'll believe it when I see it.
Until then, Mississippi State remains the biggest winner of this scheduling decision as it will keep UK on its permanent cross-division schedule. As a much-needed reprieve from the SEC West, the Bulldogs will get to play Kentucky for what should be an easier conference win each year.
Their annual meeting is one of the many reasons for MSU's four-year bowl streak—which is, after all, a school record.
No change is good news in Starkville.
LSU and Florida are two of the five most successful programs of the last decade. Because of Saturday's announcement, they will continue having to play one another each season.
Ipso facto, each will face one of the sport's top five programs every year for the foreseeable future.
It's not just that, though. LSU head coach Les Miles took exception with every part of the change with the "Big Five" mandate just acting as icing on top of the cake.
"We play the toughest schedule in America in our conference, and then we have the bias of the permanent partner," said Miles, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate. "We’re now also being mandated to take a BCS team. The bias of the schedule continues to be disproportionate. Fundamentally fair is not something they’ve given great thought to."
It's hard not to see where he's coming from.
Winner: Ole Miss/Vanderbilt
This is one of the most fair cross-division rivalries in the sport.
Since 2002, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have each won exactly six meetings, and the programs have waxed and waned through good years and bad years all the while.
That makes each an ideal cross-division rival for the other. Even in the years where one is disproportionately good, the rivalry evens out in the inevitable "down" years.
The devil you know is better than the devil you don't—especially when the devil you don't would otherwise rotate between teams such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU for Vanderbilt or Florida, Georgia and South Carolina for Ole Miss.
This is happy news for both programs.
Like the LSU-Florida rivalry, the Auburn-Georgia rivalry features two of the most consistently successful programs in college football over the past decade.
And nothing portends future success better than past success.
Just last season, Auburn's magical run to the SEC Championship and near-national title was almost derailed by the Bulldogs, who led until the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare" from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis saved the year.
If you replayed the end of that game, Auburn probably would have lost 99 times out of 100. It was lucky—but not underserving—to beat the Bulldogs and get as far as it did. But it shouldn't have to need that luck each season. Every once in a while, shouldn't it get a chance to trade Georgia for Kentucky or Vanderbilt?
Shouldn't Georgia be allowed to trade Auburn for Arkansas?
Isn't that only fair?
Winner: Fans of Tradition
That's ultimately what all of this is about—right?
The only sound argument for keeping cross-division rival games is tradition. Football season wouldn't be football season if LSU missed Florida, Auburn missed Georgia or Alabama missed Tennessee.
Fans who think this way were some of the biggest winners after Mike Slive announced the schedule ruling. By staying away from the nine-game schedule and preserving the cross-division rivalries, three of the best annual matchups in the sport will stay intact.
We won't have another lost tradition like Texas-Texas A&M.
Loser: Fans of Pragmatics
Permanent rivalries are important. One might even argue that they're the lifeblood of college football—the thing that separates it (and makes it superior) to a hollower league like the NFL.
However, others might argue that equity is more important, and that college football's lack of them is what separates it (and makes it inferior) to a mathematically scheduled league like the NFL.
In the words of ESPN.com's Chris Low:
For those of us who've been entrenched in this league for decades or more, saving those rivalries certainly makes sense.
But not at the cost of creating competitive disadvantages and denying players and fans the opportunity to face (or see) every team in the league at least once in a four-year span.
In that regard, the presidents and chancellors got it wrong.
I tend to agree with Low, although I do get both sides of the argument. Perhaps it would be different had I lived or went to school in the South and experienced these rivalries first-hand growing up.
From where I'm sitting, though, it's not fair to count every SEC game toward a division title in the current format.
LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State all compete in the same division and fight for the same goal, but one gets to play Kentucky while the others play Florida and Georgia. Every. Damn. Year.
It's just too unfair to reconcile.