When the Southeastern Conference added Missouri and Texas A&M to college football’s premier conference, one of the first issues it had to address was scheduling. In the process of developing the 2012 conference schedule, the problem of maintaining interdivisional and non-conference rivalries in an eight game schedule really came to a head.
The one thing that should never be lost are the traditional rivalries in the league. Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. Georgia are two of the premier games of the season. These are cherished rivalry games that put the league’s storied tradition on display every year and no scheduling scheme should ever eliminate them.
In addition, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina have traditional non-conference rivalries with Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson, and those should also be placed at the top of the list of priorities for scheduling.
Maintaining traditional rivalries while also giving fans and media partners a better inventory of football games can be done, but not with the 6-1-1 format of playing all divisional opponents, one permanent interdivisional rivalry opponent and a rotating interdivisional opponent each year. That format blunts the impact of adding the two new programs.
So the cost of growth should come at the expense of the eight-game schedule. It should not come at the expense of ending storied rivalries.
As many others have pointed out—and as this blog explained last October—the nine game schedule causes a lot of indigestion on the part of administrators and coaches. Adding another SEC game causes heartburn for the coaches, and administrators don’t like the idea of giving up an SEC home game every other year. Both objections are understandable. Coaches get paid to win games and adding a ninth game makes that more challenging. Administrators get paid to deliver revenue and nothing pays the bills like home games.
But maintaining the marquee games in the league is of paramount importance. They are the showcases of the league and continue the cherished traditions that have made the SEC the country’s premier conference. There is absolutely nothing in college football that’s better than the atmosphere leading up to and surrounding these matchups. They are circled on millions of calendars across the south. They are looked forward to with such anticipation that the thought of eliminating them would never even cross the minds of the fans and the players, both current and former.
Ask Barry Krause what the Third Saturday in October means to him. Ask Herschel Walker what the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry means to him. Ask any Bama or Auburn season ticket holder what he thinks. It’s a no-brainer.
Maintaining that thread to the past is so important, it’s worth the tradeoff of a ninth league game, and it may well be the only way to do so.