Since the SEC's draft press release was accidentally publicized, welcoming Missouri to the league in July 2012, it is now a matter of when, not if, the Tigers officially join the SEC. The Big 12 has indirectly confirmed the loss of Missouri, failing to include the Tigers as a member institution for the 2012-2013 academic year in its press release announcing West Virginia as a new member.
With 14 appearing to be the magic number for 2012, let's look at the scheduling issues that arise relating to the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. Some assumptions have to be made before going further.
1. There will be eight conference games
Like the Big Ten, the SEC may go to nine conference games eventually, but with most non-conference games finalized for next season, it will likely be the middle of the decade before the league adds an extra game. The move to nine games makes sense, because otherwise Alabama would likely only play in Columbia once every 12 years. It will happen eventually, but for next season, it'll be eight conference games.
2. Missouri will play in the SEC East
It's the only logical solution. Moving Auburn to the SEC East would jeopardize the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry, as well as allow for multiple Auburn/Alabama games in the same season. The Big Ten made a mistake by having Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions. The SEC won't do the same. While it may appear otherwise from an initial glance at a map, the additional travel burden on Missouri would be minimal in the SEC East. The state borders Kentucky and Tennessee, which are home to three SEC East teams.
3. Arkansas will be Missouri's permanent crossover
When the SEC went to 12 teams, Arkansas and South Carolina were scheduled to play every year, because they were the two new members. No one will cry if this annual series goes away, and instead of matching Missouri with Texas A&M annually, it'll be the Gamecocks matched up with the Aggies. This allows for Missouri and Arkansas to form a more natural annual rival. The University of Arkansas campus stands less than an hour from the Missouri line.
Given the above three criteria, the schedule works out very nicely. Each team currently plays five division games, three at home and two away. Georgia is considered the home team next season for the Florida/Georgia game.
In 2012, SEC East teams slated to have three division home games—Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina—will play Missouri on the road. SEC East teams slated to have two division home games—Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt—will host Missouri. The same rules apply for Texas A&M in the SEC West. The Aggies will visit Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and host Alabama and LSU, with the neutral site game in Arlington, TX against Arkansas counting as an A&M home game next season.
That takes care of six of the eight games, with each team having three home games and three away games. The seventh game will be the inter-divisional permanent rival, all of which will continue on their current rotation so that the away team in 2011 will be at home in 2012. For the new permanent rivals, Texas A&M will play at South Carolina, and Missouri will play at Arkansas. Leagues tend to give new members difficult schedules in their initial seasons—see 2011 Nebraska—so the two new members will play their permanent non-division game on the road in 2012.
The eighth game will be assigned to ensure that each team has four league home games, There are multiple options for the eighth games, so I attempted to prevent situations where a team is playing on the road against a non-division opponent for a second straight season.
So there you have it. Listed below is a projected 2012 schedule for each SEC team:
- Home: Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, South Carolina
- Away: Georgia (Jacksonville), Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
- Home: Florida (Jacksonville), Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
- Away: Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina
- Home: Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
- Away: Florida, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee
- Home: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
- Away: Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
- Home: Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M
- Away: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
- Home: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
- Away: Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
- Home: Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
- Away: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss
- Home: Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina
- Away: Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M
- Home: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri
- Away: Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Texas A&M (Arlington)
- Home: Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M
- Away: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
- Home: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee
- Away: Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M
- Home: Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M
- Away: Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss
- Home: Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
- Away: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU
- Home: Alabama, Arkansas (Arlington), Florida, LSU
- Away: Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina
As always, some teams may appear to have a more difficult schedule than others. This schedule will keep all rivalry games from repeating home teams, which the Big 12 and Big Ten could not avoid, having to send Oklahoma to Stillwater and Penn State to Columbus respectively in both 2010 and 2011. Will the SEC's final product mirror this schedule? Not necessarily, but it meets all the logistical requirements as well as preserving the traditions that are so valuable to the league and its fans.