Friday, October 28, 2011

CBS’ Tony Barnhart gets future SEC divisional alignment right

image Tony Barnhart is one of college football’s most respected writers. Known as “Mr. College Football,” the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist now writes for CBS Sports.

So, when the Southeastern Conference wanted to get media perspective on the Missouri to SEC story, who else would they want a sit-down with?

When the SEC website goofed last night and posted several pages of content announcing a move that hadn’t happened yet, it included a Q&A with Barnhart on what impacts the new members would have on the conference.

The interview that didn’t happen included this exchange:

SEC Digital Network: How much sense does it make to now have 14 teams in the SEC and how does that help the issues that you may see with 13 teams, such as scheduling?

Tony Barnhart: “Could the conference make it as 13 schools for one year? Sure; the scheduling models are done. The Mid-American Conference has done it, so there are ways for it to be done. But it’s not  easy; this simplifies it. I don’t know what the conference will decide to do. To me, the logical thing would be to take Missouri and put them in the east. It’s not that far from Lexington, Ky. If you put them in the East, have Texas A&M stay in the west, then you play the other six teams in your division and have one permanent crossover on the other side. You would make Missouri and Texas A&M the permanent crossover. To me, that is the least disruptive thing to do. No matter what, you want to maintain some of the better crossover games in the divisions.”

Well, now. Where have we heard that before?

Barnhart is absolutely right, of course. Splitting the new conference members between the two SEC divisions makes the most sense because it is the least disruptive thing to do. It preserves the balance of power between the two divisions. It maintains existing inter-divisional rivalries. It eliminates the need for drastic reorganization of conference schedules and it also eliminates the possibility of a nine-game conference schedule.

In fact, there’s pretty solid information that this is exactly what the SEC plans to do when it formally accepts Missouri. It doesn’t look like anyone in the current SEC West division will be escaping to the SEC East to “accommodate” the addition of Missouri. Gone also are the nutty ideas of SEC schools giving up a home game every other year to “accommodate” a nine-game schedule.

Those ideas would have worked to the benefit of one SEC school—Auburn—and to the detriment of virtually every other. Those who would have been hurt the most—Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida—would have seen cherished rivalries either eliminated or greatly diminished in impact and value.

I hope that Mr. Barnhart uses his considerable gravitas to champion the idea of placing Missouri in the East and Texas A&M in the West (or vice versa). These are fluid, unpredictable times and it’s inevitable that change will occur in places we’d have liked to keep the same. But when the opportunity arises to protect storied traditions and minimize disruption, it should be taken.

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