Nothing’s perfect: Scheduling opinions vary widely among SEC coaches
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Jul 25, 2013 | 1929 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama's Nick Saban would like the SEC to have a nine-game schedule. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/File)
Alabama's Nick Saban would like the SEC to have a nine-game schedule. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/File)
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TUSCALOOSA — The Southeastern Conference uses a 6-1-1 format in scheduling its conference games.

The “6-1-1” means SEC teams will play six divisional opponents, one permanent cross-division game and a rotating cross-division game.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier explained how this format created unfair advantages for teams, particularly SEC East foe Georgia. LSU coach Les Miles ranted about how the format provided teams an easier route through the season, particularly Alabama.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said the schedule will never be fair because everybody can’t play everybody.

The “6-1-1” protects permanent partners — Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia — but it could take up to 12 years to play every cross-division team at home.

Don’t expect the SEC to change soon. Commissioner Mike Slive announced that the league is “still evaluating” potential scheduling options at SEC Media Days. The 2013 schedule will feature the “6-1-1” format. The 2014 and 2015 schedules will likely feature the “6-1-1” format as well, Slive told reporters at the SEC’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

“For those of you who were with us in Destin this past spring, you’ll recall we spent a lot of time talking about football scheduling,” Slive said during media days. “The end result was a decision to commit the conference to a review of our scheduling format in anticipation of the 2016 season. This review will include whether or not to play an eight- or nine-game conference schedule and whether or not to retain permanent non-divisional opponents.

“In the meantime, until that review is complete, we will continue to schedule based on the current 6-1-1 format pending the results of that review.

“As I said this spring, the simple goal of this review, although it is not simple to do, is to select the format that is in the long-term best interest of the conference as a whole.”

Other formatting options include a “6-0-2” format, with six division games and two rotating cross-division games.  LSU coach Les Miles and others support this format because their programs don’t have the longstanding rivalries of an Alabama-Tennessee or an Auburn-Georgia. LSU’s permanent opponent is Florida.

“A key piece to every conference is that we’d be able to describe the path to a championship in an equal and direct manner,” Miles said at media days. “In fact, scheduling should not in any way decide championships repeatedly or throughout.

“I’d have to say there’s a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups.”

Then there’s the nine-game schedule which keeps the six division games, allows permanent cross-division rivalries to remain intact and creates two rotating cross-division games.

One knock against the best conference in college football is that they regularly schedule “cupcake” teams. Whether it’s Alabama facing Chattanooga or Georgia hosting Furman, pundits rip SEC schools for scheduling FCS opponents. An added conference game would boost the SEC’s overall strength of schedule.

Alabama coach Nick Saban supports the adding of a ninth conference game. He knows he is in the minority.

“You rotate your schedule. We have to rotate the schedule,” Saban said at media days. “The things that I think are important in scheduling is, A, I’ve been over this before, every player plays every team in the SEC in his career. That means you must play at least two teams on the other side. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditions that our fans enjoy, which our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans. So the only way to do that is play nine games.”

Still, there is no perfect formula and even a nine-game schedule would bring along complaints. There could be seasons where an East team would draw Alabama and LSU as its two cross-division opponents. There could be seasons where a West team could have Georgia and Florida as its two cross-division opponents.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 already play nine conference games. The ACC is discussing it. The Big Ten, who currently houses 14 teams like the SEC, revealed its intentions to move toward the nine-game schedule early this month. The nine-game conference schedule allows each player to face every team in the conference throughout their time in school.

“I think the real winners in all of this are, No. 1, the players,” Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner told reporters when the news broke earlier this month. “They certainly want to play in these kind of games and against this kind of competition. And also the fans are winners. Every week in the Big Ten, we’re going to be playing big conference games.”
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