DESTIN, Fla. – The idea of moving Auburn to the SEC East is not on the agenda here at league meetings. The five minutes that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey spent talking about it with the media were five minutes more than it was discussed by the league itself.
So that’s out of the way. It’s not happening. They’re not thinking of moving Auburn to the East. Which begs the question: Why not?
Oh, and maybe move Alabama too.
The SEC doesn’t seem to realize it, but it has a couple real problems related to its divisional alignment. One has to do with scheduling, and the other with competitive balance. And of course there’s a simple matter of geography.
All could be addressed – not solved, but addressed – by moving to the two programs in Alabama to East, and moving Vanderbilt and Missouri to their more natural geographic spot, the West Division.
Geography: That should be obvious.
Competitive balance: The West has won the last eight championship games by an average of 24 points. (All but game has been in double digits, the exception being Georgia’s near-miss in 2012 against Alabama.) The regular season isn’t much different, with the West also dominating. You can say its cyclical. Well, it doesn’t look like it from here.
Then there’s scheduling. As long as the SEC is committed to an eight-game schedule, the current divisional alignment will lead to headaches, and conference mates being strangers: Texas A&M joined the conference in 2012. It has yet to play Georgia, and the teams aren’t scheduled to face each other until 2020. It won’t be until 2024 that Georgia fans get to see their team play in College Station.
The big hang-up is the permanent cross-division rivalries. Well, the only two that really matter are Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee. Move Auburn and Alabama to the east, and suddenly those are just division games. That frees up everyone to have two rotating cross-division games every year.
Does it create other problems? Sure, Alabama and Auburn have built up rivalries, especially LSU-Alabama. But any loss would be outweighed by the gains made in other every-year rivalries: Alabama-Georgia, Alabama-Florida, Auburn-Florida, Auburn-South Carolina, etc.
Reminder: None of this is happening.
“I really only address that in these conversations,” Sankey said at his Tuesday press conference smiling. “Is that an agenda item, no. Do we talk about it? In media conferences, press conference: Regularly. It’s almost this cycle every two years I can predict it will begin happening on May 1.”
A nine-game conference schedule is also not on the agenda, Sankey added.
Someone else threw out another idea; Eliminating divisions. That again solves most scheduling issues (do Georgia and Kentucky really need to play every year?) and should give you a better conference title game.
But again, Sankey smiled and shook his head, calling it a hypothetical. Then he pointed to a few years ago, when he felt this was all settled.
“The 2013-14 year, this conference spent a great deal of time at every level of leadership, our presidents and chancellors, our athletics directors, really looking across the landscape of options, from a football scheduling standpoint, and landed where we are currently: Eight conference games, with the expectation of a ninth game played against a colleague conference institution, with the divisional alignment that’s in place. And it’s worked well.”
Yes, it’s worked well in the sense that the SEC continues to be very successful. But it’s not worked well if you want Georgia and Texas A&M to meet more frequently than just Olympic years. It’s not worked well if you’re a Missouri fan who has to fly to almost every division opponent. It’s not worked well if you want close championship games.
The SEC doesn’t want to think outside the box, which is why this won’t change. Frankly, it doesn’t have to, as long as the money keeps coming in and the league keeps winning. Any divisional realignment is treated as just a fun joke.
It shouldn’t be. It should be under discussion. Alas, it’s not. Maybe next decade – you know, when Georgia and Texas A&M finally meet.