DESTIN, Fla. – The whole thing was a joke. Something everyone in the room could laugh about. It was just unclear why.
The scene was SEC meetings in Destin, and commissioner Greg Sankey was holding a wrap-up session one evening with the media. The subject was a potential Auburn division switch. Someone asked if it was a dead story.
“I don’t know that it was ever a live story,” Sankey said, smiling wryly. “The only time I’ve ever talked about it in Destin, Florida, was here in this room.”
So, a reporter jumped in, you talked about it in other places? People laughed.
“I was in a room in Hoover, Alabama and I was on the phone with Jon Solomon (of CBSsports.com) and he asked me,” Sankey said, still smiling.
So have you talked to your coaches about it? More laughter. More smiling from the commish.
“Since I have been commissioner,” Sankey said, going into putting-my-foot-down-with-all-you-people mode, “I have never once talked to our football coaches about any team moving to any other division.”
Why does the SEC hate geography, asked another reporter, facetiously, sort of. More laughter.
“Timing is everything,” Sankey said.
That was it, no more questions about the seemingly farcical idea, and now it’s left to the rest of us to wonder: Wait, why doesn’t the SEC seriously consider moving Auburn to the East?
And Alabama too, by the way.
It’s the easiest fix to the conference’s ongoing scheduling problem, in which Georgia and Texas A&M are scheduled to play each other next in 2020 – for the first time since the Aggies joined the league. Georgia will first play at College Station in 2024, which is 12 long years since Texas A&M came in.
That scheduling is always blamed on 1) the requirement of the one cross-division rivalry, leaving just one rotational cross-division game per year, and 2) the eight-game SEC schedule, rather than going to nine.
Well, guess what: Move Alabama and Auburn to the East, and suddenly the two biggest cross-division rivalries (Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee) are division games. Florida-LSU is a big game too, but frankly both schools can live without it. And while Alabama and Auburn would lose some rivalries, they maintain the biggest one (between themselves), and create an Alabama-Georgia rivalry that should be every year, given the overlapping recruiting that’s been happening for years.
Auburn-Georgia is a storied rivalry, and if Auburn switched divisions it would no longer mess with the rest of the SEC’s schedule. (AP Photo/Patricia Miklik, Montgomery Advertiser)
Plus, with the SEC being freed up to eliminate the permanent cross-division rivalry, every team would have the chance for more cross-division match-ups. Two a year is better than one.
Then there’s competitive balance. The West has won the past seven SEC championship games, and they haven’t exactly been barn-burners: They were decided by an average of more than 20 points. That’s a reflection of the regular season, when the West went 81-35 against the East over the same span, including 12-2 last year.
Enough of the talk about it being cyclical. We’ve been hearing that it’s cyclical for about five years now. It’s a good rule of thumb that when people keep saying something is cyclical, over and over and over, it’s not actually cyclical anymore. It’s how it is.
The most natural candidates to move from East-to-West would be Missouri and Vanderbilt. So do you create another competitive balance issue by doing that? Well, yes. One can imagine the five remaining West teams tripping over themselves to vote for that trade.
But this year only three SEC East teams – Georgia, Florida and Tennessee – are being given a realistic shot at the title. Competitive imbalance is already a problem, so the SEC would just be potentially – only potentially- flip-flopping the balance towards a different division, while fixing a major scheduling headache.
It’s not a foolproof idea. But it’s at least worth talking about. No joke.