Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Might the SEC tweak the division rotation system to maintain permanent rivalries?

image Over at sbnation.com’s TeamSpeedKills, Year2 has an interesting post on how to tweak the rotation of interdivision games in an eight-game schedule. It both maintains the permanent rivalry games between Alabama and Tennessee and Georgia and Auburn and allows for all of the league’s programs to meet at least once over a six to seven year period.

Maintaining the storied rivalries within the league has to be a priority for decision-makers because these are the matchups that form the very fabric of the league’s appeal. They seem to be getting it—both Year2’s post and a report earlier this week noting comments from South Carolina’s Harris Pastides show strong support within the league for keeping these marquee matchups.

There are two ways of doing this: installing a nine-game schedule to accommodate a better rotation between the two divisions—a possibility that people could probably accept as a reasonable tradeoff—or getting creative with the rotation scheme, like Year2 does.

Let’s take a look:

This is something I've thought about before, so here's an example rotation I made a while ago using Alabama. I picked the Crimson Tide because its first alphabetically, and the rotating East teams go through alphabetically as well. For the second half, teams have to get moved around in order to switch the home/road arrangements.

Year 1: Florida, at Tennessee

Year 2: at Georgia, Tennessee

Year 3: Kentucky, at Tennessee

Year 4: at Missouri, Tennessee

Year 5: South Carolina, at Tennessee

Year 6: at Vanderbilt, Tennessee

Year 7: Georgia, at Tennessee

Year 8: at Florida, Tennessee

Year 9: Missouri, at Tennessee

Year 10: at Kentucky, Tennessee

Year 11: Vanderbilt, at Tennessee

Year 12: at South Carolina, Tennessee

With this system, a fifth-year senior would face 12 of a possible 13 SEC schools before his time is up. It would also make sure that every team plays each other conference opponent at least once every six or seven years, which is a lot better than the alternative of needing 12 years to complete an entire rotation.

The nine game schedule has three important benefits for the league. One, it ensures that interdivisional rivalries are kept alive, and it allows Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina to keep their non-conference rivalries alive. Two, it doesn’t force programs to choose between the rivalry game and a non-conference patsy game for bowl eligibility purposes. Three, it creates a better conference game inventory and more media revenue for the league. But it reduces opportunities to schedule other big non-conference opponents, like the 2011 LSU vs. Oregon game and 2012 Alabama vs. Michigan matchup. It also creates heartburn by coaches and administrators who worry about adding another conference game, seven more losses league-wide and unbalanced home-away conference schedules.

The eight game schedule alleviates the latter concerns. With a creative rotation scheme like the one above, the permanent rivalries are maintained and there’s still enough room in the non-conference schedule to permit the East’s non-conference rivalries and the big time matchups we’ve had the last several years. It doesn’t create as many conference matchups as the media partners would like, but it does create more than the current 6-1-1 rotation over the 12 year period.

Year2 goes on to confidently predict that the league will ultimately settle on the eight game slate with a rotation similar to what he’s described. The mix hasn’t even started hardening yet, and don’t count out the influence of what the powers-that-be decide to do with the postseason. But I wouldn’t bet against the creative eight game schedule.

Notice also that the scheduling decisions made by other leagues don’t enter into this discussion at all. The fact that other conferences are going to or are considering nine game schedules has zero influence on the SEC’s deliberations. All of the cultural, political, traditional and financial considerations are unique to the SEC. What the other cool kids are doing is totally irrelevant.

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