For SEC coaches, number of conference games will always be debated
MAY 01, 2014 8:15p ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Since Sunday night's announcement by the Southeastern Conference that the league was staying with an eight-game conference schedule and maintaining a permanent cross-division rival, the most outspoken critic of the plan was LSU athletic director Joe Alleva.
Alleva and LSU head coach Les Miles had voiced concerns about the potential of the longstanding rivalry with Florida continuing prior to the SEC's decision.
The schools have met every season since 1971, but with the SEC West's recent dominance -- Alabama (three), Auburn (one) and LSU (one) have won five of the last eight national championships -- Miles would soon not have to play Florida each season.
The Gators (two) and Florida State (one) are the only non-SEC West schools to win national titles since 2006.
So, when Miles opened Wednesday's SEC media teleconference with the league's 14 head coaches, no one was surprised to hear he wasn't a fan of the league's plan to keep its current scheduling format.
''The scheduling did not go like I thought it should,'' Miles said. ''The rotation of opponents can only be the fair and right way. It gives everybody an opportunity to see the entire schedule, the entire conference, in four years. It removes annual inequity of scheduling.
''It's a disparaging difference. To say that this is the fairest and rightest way to pick a champion, I think that is flawed.''
While he will still have to face the Gators, Miles was in favor of maintaining the eight-game conference slate instead of going to a nine-game format favored by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
He wasn't alone as the majority of coaches voiced the same sentiment on the conference call with reporters around the country.
''There is no doubt in my mind that the eight games we played last year on our conference schedule, and just on paper, the eight games that we have scheduled for this year, I don't care if other conferences play 10 games it's not going to be to the magnitude of what this possibly is for the SEC,'' Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
Gators coach Will Muschamp also favored an eight-game conference schedule. As for maintaining the rivalry with LSU, Muschamp supports the UF administration's desire to keep the game on the schedule.
He understands the value of the game but also can relate to the views of Miles and others who would like to see the conference go to a 6-0-2 format in which the out-of-division opponents rotate annually.
''It isn't all fair all the time and that's part of it,'' Muschamp said. ''When you're in a league and you've got 14 universities being represented, that's what Commissioner (Mike) Slive does. He and his staff make a decision on what's best for the majority of the conference and whatever format they went with, eight games, I was going to be good with.
''We've got a great rivalry -- and I've been on both sides of it -- with Florida and LSU. It's an exciting game, it's a national game -- certainly a game that I know Les enjoys and I do as well.''
Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn, said there are always compromises to make in scheduling. Growing up, one of his favorite games to watch was the annual Florida-Auburn game.
The schools met every season from 1945-2002 but now play only occasionally due to the SEC's cross-division format.
''You look at some of the games, and having been involved in both sides of that rivalry, I understand the importance of that,'' Muschamp said. ''You look at Tennessee and Auburn -- they don't hardly play any more because of the scheduling.''
There are few things in this world 14 SEC football coaches will agree on, so the fact most voiced minor discontent on Wednesday's conference call other than Miles is perhaps a victory in itself.
''It didn't matter to us either way,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said ''The reason I thought the 6-0-2 (format) was the best is because it is the most fair way to go. Each school sort of looked out for what was best for them and that's the way we decided to go.''
''I'm very comfortable with it,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the format, which includes the Bulldogs maintaining their rivalry with Auburn. ''I think the game with Auburn is important to our people, I think it's important to the South as far as rivalries go. I'm fine with that.
''I think everybody is going to have a strong enough schedule. I think everyone is going to play enough tough opponents to not hurt anyone's chances of playing in the Final Four.''
Instead of fretting over the decision, Freeze pointed out that keeping the SEC schedule as is might not be such a bad thing after all.
''I wanted to stay at eight for sure,'' he said. ''I think we beat up each other enough. We have been very successful at eight. I'm not sure why we would want to change until it's proven that it doesn't work anymore. What we've done with eight games has put our teams -- more than one usually -- in the national championship hunt.''