SEC Needs a New Football Scheduling Format
The best thing about SEC football is going on the road to follow your favorite team. It's a unique lifeblood of the conference, a road trip into the heart of the South. Going to home football games is great, but there's nothing that compares with a trip to a brand new football environment. Some of my fondest moments of childhood are connected to SEC football, and many of those moments are about taking a trip out-of-state with my dad.
When I was ten I went to LSU. Imagine the French Quarter when you're ten years old. Then the experience of riding a bus into Baton Rouge for a game in Tiger Stadium. It was eye-opening and exhilarating; what's more, it ensured that I was something more than just a fan of Tennessee, the team I grew up rooting for. I came to love the length and breadth of the SEC. The South was my home and SEC football was our most enticing cultural export. That's why no matter where you live in the world SEC football is a unifying experience. There's nothing else like it in sports. I believe a big part of that is the cross-pollination that occurs on football game weekends, when thousands of fans descend on new environments on sun-drenched fall afternoons. No matter who you root for, it's almost impossible to leave an SEC stadium and not be impressed by what you've seen on a trip.
Throughout my youth we took trips around the SEC. I didn't go everywhere, but my dad made it to every conference stadium in the original ten team SEC. When I grew up my first book, Dixieland Delight, was about the experience of attending a game in all 12 SEC football stadiums in the same year. No one had ever done it before. It was a great time and it turned into a hell of a road trip book.
Now the SEC has 14 teams and I've made my own trips to Columbia, Missouri, and College Station, Texas. Both were fantastic additions to the conference. But I'm afraid that new generations of SEC fans won't be able to have the same experiences that I did, of falling in love with an entire conference through road trips and regular games against the entire scope of the conference.
That's because the SEC recently released its football schedule through 2025 and as a result of the divisional alignment there's only one new game on the schedule every year. This means it will take 12 years for schools to complete a home and home with six of the teams in the opposite division. If you're a kid growing up in Georgia and you want your dad to take you to Alabama, it's not going to happen every often. If you're a Texas A&M dad and you want your son to know what it's like in the Swamp, good luck, it only happens once every 12 years. Hell, it will take six years for teams to even play, meaning every football player won't even take the field against every team in the conference. (Playing nine conference games also wouldn't make much of a difference with this issue. That's because it only adds one more game. The biggest issue here is the requirement to play every team in your division).
I think this schedule format -- six division games, one permanent opponent, and one cross-division game -- is bad for the conference. Moreover, I think divisions don't make much sense in college football. (Indeed, the SEC has done away with divisions in basketball for this very reason). Right now divisions exist because NCAA rules require them for a conference title game. In order to qualify for a playoff you have to have two divisions of at least six teams and play a round-robin schedule, that is you have to play every team in your own division.
The ACC, to its credit, is seeking to change this rule to allow conferences greater scheduling flexibility. If the ACC gets its way then there would just be one division and the top two teams in the conference would advance to the conference title game instead of the two top teams from each division. That's preferable because it eliminates the vagaries of one division being stronger than another. Shouldn't the goal of a conference title game be to find the two best teams?
Sure, every schedule isn't created equal -- that's impossible -- but ensuring that you play every team in the conference every two years eliminates many of these issues. Right now the SEC's official position on the ACC's proposed rule change is that it doesn't have an official position on the ACC's proposed rule change.
The SEC should do something more than not take a position and should be in agreement with the ACC's proposed rule change. If divisions weren't required then every SEC team could play three permanent rivals and rotate through the other ten teams in the conference every two years. This means every team would play home-and-homes with every other team in the conference during a four-year period. It would bind the conference together and create more intriguing match-ups. It would also preserve the conference road trip, a unique SEC tradition that goes a long way towards imprinting a love for a conference and a region.
So what would the three permanent rivals look like?
I've hashed them out here. Sure, others could have different proposals on the three team permanent rivals, but it's really not that complicated. I did my best to preserve each team's top rivals. All while balancing out the relative strength of opponents. Remember, the schedule would matter less if you played every team every two years.
So here's Outkick's proposed permanent opponents. Let me know what you think:
Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi State
Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt
Arkansas, Texas A&M, South Carolina
Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Arkansas
Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss
Georgia, Auburn, Missouri
Auburn, Tennessee, LSU
Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina
Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss
Arkansas, LSU, Missouri
LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Ole Miss, Kentucky, Florida
Texas A&M, Missouri, Kentucky