Why the SEC Should Eliminate Divisions

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 2, 2014

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While the SEC West is busy in a 12-round bare-knuckle cage match, the SEC East is busy having a pillow fight.

The latest in the tragic saga known as SEC East football came on Florida's "first coast" in Jacksonville, as Florida stomped Georgia 38-20 in a game that featured just six Gator passes and 60—yes, 60—running plays.

It was the latest in a series of events this season that has transformed the once-proud SEC East into a clone of the ACC's hapless coastal division.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel
Missouri head coach Gary PinkelL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

Missouri—the division's leader and likely winner—lost to Indiana at home. Florida, which was and still may be left for dead, actually could win the division if it wins out, Georgia loses to either Kentucky or Auburn (but not both) and Missouri loses at Tennessee and either to Texas A&M or Arkansas.

Do we really need an SEC East champion?

The ACC has made a push recently for the NCAA to alter its rules, which, according to bylaw 17.5.9.2(c), requires conferences that have championship games have two divisions and every team in the division to play each other every year.

As SI.com's Andy Staples noted earlier this year, there's no compelling reason for the rule other than the fact that the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) has 12 teams when it co-sponsored the proposal in 1986.

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From Staples:

There was no research. No debate. The CIAA had 12 members at the time, so [former West Chester University administrator] Dick Yoder wrote the number 12 into the legislation.

It had nothing to do with travel costs, budgets or competitive balance. It was arbitrary. 

It's time to change it, and as CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd reported this spring, the wheels are already in motion.

Does winning a division that's loosely based on geography determine that a team is elite? No. It proves that team is the best of an arbitrary group of teams that may or may not be good.

Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia QB Hutson MasonSam Greenwood/Getty Images

For change to happen, there would have to be substantial changes to the SEC's tiebreaker rules. There have been three-team ties at 7-1 in each of the last two seasons, and Auburn's victory over Alabama in 2013 and Georgia's win over Florida in 2012 would have to earn those winners the benefit of the doubt.

As it stands right now, though, the SEC Championship Game likely serves as a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the conference. The winner is likely in, and if power has shifted toward one division—as it has lately—not playing in the SEC Championship Game is an attractive proposition for a potential second SEC team.

What if the favorite loses, though?

If the SEC East participant gets hot and upsets the West champ in Atlanta this year, that West champ will be in a dog fight just to make the College Football Playoff, the potential second SEC West playoff team would suffer a tremendous strength of schedule blow and the SEC could—depending on the landscape—run the risk of not getting any team in the postseason.

The goal for the SEC shouldn't be to get two teams in to the College Football Playoff every once in a while when the landscape makes it possibleit should be to always get one team in.

Without exception.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07:  The Auburn Tigers hold up the SEC sign in celebration after defeating the Missouri Tigers 59-42 to win the SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome on December 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The SEC should join the push to deregulate conference championship game rules.

Unfortunately, one of the points of emphasis on the College Football Playoff website is "conference championships," which is unfortunate because winning a conference championship hardly makes a team elite.

Was 8-5 Wisconsin elite in 2012? Nope. Was 8-4 UConn in 2010 when it earned an automatic BCS bid out of the then-Big East? Hardly.

Conference championships will matter on Dec. 7 when each major conference has one to boast, as ESPN's Joe Schad notes.

How much remains to be seen, but the importance of conference championships, unfortunately, will only increase in the future. The playoff shouldn't expand, but if it goes to eight teams, the only way conference commissioners would consider signing off is if their conference champs get automatic bids.

It's going to happen at some point, and the SEC should take steps as soon as possible to ensure that its championship game features the best of the best. At least, at that point, it'd be almost impossible for the conference to miss the event entirely.

Who knows? In the event of a close game between title contenders in Atlanta like the 2012 Georgia/Alabama game, the loser could still sneak in if the landscape allows.

It'd be a win-win for the SEC. It'd increase the likelihood of a compelling matchup in Atlanta in early December and virtually guarantee at least one participant in a national semifinal on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 every year. 

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Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.