ATHENS — SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wants everyone to keep an open mind and allow for some “blue-sky thinking” with the pending addition of Texas and Oklahoma.
“We have a lot of work to do, things have developed rapidly,” Sankey said on the SEC Network. “What I’ve asked our athletics directors this week, and our presidents, also, is to come to the discussion of scheduling with an open mind.”
The SEC Now Show, hosted by Dari Nowkhah, displayed a graphic indicating membership for the Longhorns and Sooners becomes effective on July 1, 2025.
There has, however, been speculation that the former Big 12 schools could end up a part of the SEC sooner than their current media rights agreement would allow for if the Big 12 were to dissolve or the schools were to pay $75 to $80 million each for leaving early.
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Georgia sacrificed last time
Sankey, whose contract as league commissioner was extended through 2026 on Thursday, said the SEC was in a “rapid response” mode 10 years ago when Texas A&M and Missouri were added to the league. The league had to juggle and change schedules to accommodate the new teams.
Georgia certainly did its part, punting a home game with Auburn and playing the Tigers on the road in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013.
Greg McGarity was a relatively new AD in the SEC, like Josh Brooks is now, when the Bulldogs made the scheduling sacrifice for the betterment of the league.
The scheduled adjustment led to the Bulldogs facing rivals Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road in November every other season, and the Tigers facing Georgia and Alabama on the road in November in even years.
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Former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Kirby Smart made it clear that was not a preferred arrangement. That led to the SEC recently adjusting the league schedule so the Bulldogs and Tigers meet in October rather than November.
It seems unlikely Georgia would be asked to play back-to-back road games against an SEC opponent again.
Alabama every year?
Sankey seemed to hint annual cross-division rivalries may become a thing of the past with a new 16-team league, pointing out how infrequently teams meet now.
“We’ve obviously set a date out in 2025, we have an opportunity to think through a few really important issues: How do we move teams through our campuses with greater frequencies?” Sankey said.
“It’s 12 years right now for a cross-divisional opponent to show up on one of our campuses,” he said. “How can we think differently about that? How do we build the competitive spirit and competitive environment and present this compelling competition on a regular basis?”
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If divisional play is maintained after the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, with two divisional champions meeting in the SEC Championship Game, it could further change the face of the league depending on the new league alignment.
Georgia has played Auburn as its annual cross-divisional rival, and there’s a chance they could continue playing the Tigers every year if Auburn were in the same division.
But there’s also a chance the Bulldogs could be playing Alabama every season, too.
New look East and West
The abolition of cross-divisional rivalries could mean both Alabama and Auburn move to the East Division with Georgia with Texas and Oklahoma joining in the West Division.
The SEC will not forgo the league’s biggest rivalry between the Tide and the Tigers, and the only sure way to maintain the yearly meeting would be for the teams to be in the same division.
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Obviously, that would seem to make the going tougher in the East Division while providing relief in the West Division for LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and the Mississippi schools.
It’s too early to say if the East Division leadership at Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Missouri go along with a plan that adds Alabama and Auburn, should the league decide divisional play is the way to go in the future.
Sankey pointed out the SEC has been on the rise since the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, and he anticipates that will continue with the Sooners and Longhorns in the league.
“The elevation of our 14-team conference has been real over the last decade, as I noted from the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, (and) it will continue on,” Sankey said. “We’re just going to have to think creatively about how we schedule.
“Nothing’s in stone, and there’s an opportunity for some blue-sky thinking ahead.”
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