Around The SEC

July 7, 2014

Commentary: SEC wrong to promote false rivalries

The SEC started it this spring by designating Texas A&M and South Carolina as permanent cross-division rivals in football. Never mind that they’re separated by a thousand miles and one time zone, and they’ve never played each other in football. They’re now married.

NOTHING BEATS A rivalry, which is why Teddy Roosevelt welcomed Oklahoma as the 46th state in 1907, so Texas could have a date when the State Fair rolled around.

And no sport appreciates a good feud quite like college football. Michigan-Ohio State. Texas-OU. Miami-Florida State. Alabama-anybody.

Rivalries happen for several reasons, the first usually geography. The combustible nature of proximity was established long ago, probably in a one-bathroom house. The next major component is time, lots of it. Decades, even.

You can’t make this stuff up. Not that the SEC and a couple governors aren’t trying.

The SEC started it this spring by designating Texas A&M and South Carolina as permanent cross-division rivals in football. Never mind that they’re separated by a thousand miles and one time zone, and they’ve never played each other in football. They’re now married.

The thing is, the SEC didn’t have to manufacture these cross-division rivals across the board and, in fact, should have concentrated on creating competitive balance league-wide instead. More on that later.

In the interests of pumping up a new rivalry, the state’s highest-ranking Aggie, Gov. Rick Perry, told South Carolina governor Nikki Haley that they should play for a trophy. The fact that Haley was agreeable should come as no surprise. South Carolina is big on trophies. Already the Gamecocks play Clemson for the Hardee’s Trophy and Missouri for the Mayor’s Cup. One more after this, and they officially qualify as a youth soccer league.

Give Perry credit: He didn’t go cheap. No iron skillet or brass bucket for him. A Texas history buff, Perry reportedly suggested a bronze of South Carolinian James Bonham, a hero of the Alamo.

It’s a swell idea for a trophy that recognizes South Carolina’s contribution to Texas independence.

But chances seem remote that it'll microwave a feud.

What the SEC should have done this spring instead of promoting false rivalries was figure out a way to balance the competition.

For example: Since 2000, LSU has played East division powerhouses Florida and Georgia 19 times. Over the same period, Alabama has played the pair eight times, an imbalance that didn’t go unnoticed by LSU’s athletics director, Joe Alleva.

“I’m disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn’t understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions,” Alleva told New Orleans reporters last spring.

“In our league we share the money and expenses equally, but we don’t share our opponents equally.”

Besides Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee and A&M-South Carolina, Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt as its permanent partner, Mississippi State draws Kentucky and Arkansas plays Missouri.

Meanwhile, LSU and Florida get each other. Every year.

Now, Alleva understands tradition, and he knows Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia go back a long way. They can keep those rivalries, he said. Just don’t saddle the rest of the SEC with fake ones. For everybody else, schedule both of the cross-division games on a rotating basis instead of one of them. Seems reasonable.

Frankly, if you’re going to pair these schools for no particular reason, A&M should have drawn Kentucky. They could have played for the Bear Bryant Trophy, considering he left the latter for the former.

As it is, trophies alone aren’t much incentive. If this A&M-South Carolina match is to rise to anything, odds are better that Steve Spurrier will be responsible. South Carolina-Clemson doesn’t need added heat, but a series of jabs between Spurrier and Dabo Swinney makes for great drama. If Spurrier could work up something similar with Kevin Sumlin, it would help immensely.

Either way, we'll remember the Alamo.

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