What’s this new world we are living in where ESPN and Alabama come out on the losing end of a decision?
That’s what happened Sunday in Atlanta when presidents and athletics directors from the 14 Southeastern Conference schools decided to stick with the league’s 6-1-1 scheduling format. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban did not get the ninth SEC game for which he has been clamoring (it was clamoring by the standards of the taciturn Saban), and the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ decision-making did not get 14 more conference games to show on the new ESPN Network, oops, SEC Network.
The good news is both will survive the blow because as losers and winners go in this vote it’s sort of like splitting very luxurious and full-bodied hairs.
LSU would call itself the big loser after pushing for the end of permanent rivalries and seeing them survive the vote. Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva did that when he called himself “disappointed.” As an aside, bless Alleva’s heart for saying publicly what he thinks rather than singing backup in Mike Slive’s band. (I say this not so much as a reporter who likes a good quote as an aspiring contrarian who thinks it’s OK if we don’t all agree all the dang time.)
Having said that, Alleva’s on the wrong side of this argument.
The SEC could not kill the history surrounding the Alabama-Tennessee game or the Georgia-Auburn rivalry and still claim it cares one whit about the league’s tradition. So LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times since 2000 while Alabama has played the Gators and Bulldogs eight times in the same time span? Sure, it’s tougher than getting Vanderbilt and Kentucky on a regular basis, but it’s not like Florida and Georgia haven’t fielded beatable teams in the past 20 years.
Most of the league’s natural rivalries were formed 20 years ago with competitive balance in mind, and if LSU is worried about holding up its end of that bargain in the Florida series, I’m sure Kentucky football fans would be happy to trade home recruiting areas with them.
South Carolina comes out as a loser in the scheduling vote, but only in the strictest sense. The Gamecocks voted for a 6-0-2 scheduling format and the abolition of the permanent rival, but you don’t have to look too far back in school’s football history to see the foolishness of fretting too much about the “fairness” of permanent vs. rotating opponents.
In 2012, 76 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by The State wanted to jettison Arkansas as the Gamecocks’ permanent opponent. Starting in the 2014 football season, all of them will get their wish as Texas A&M becomes the new permanent opponent. To review what has happened in those two years: Bobby Petrino ran his motorcycle in his ditch and is back coaching at Louisville; the Gamecocks beat the now-putrid Razorbacks 52-7 in 2013, and the Aggies have started taking away all the players Texas used to get, plus some, to play for Kevin Sumlin.
Want to ditch Texas A&M from the schedule now? How will you feel when Sumlin takes the Dallas Cowboys job next year and the Aggies hire Ron Zook? (I know Eric Hyman wouldn’t hire Ron Zook, but you know what I mean.)
Two rotating opponents doesn’t make for more long-term equity than one permanent opponent and one rotating opponent. If it did, one of the best teams in South Carolina history (2012) would not have been playing at LSU as its rotating Western Division opponent while a Georgia team it beat played Ole Miss at home that same year. There’s a word for that – life.
This is the position in which the SEC finds itself – the four biggest “losers” in the scheduling decision are God’s Favorite TV Station, King Saban and last year’s No. 4 and No. 14 football team (or seventh- and 21st-richest schools if you prefer).
We should all land in such a pile of roses when we fall.