One Southeastern Conference athletic director wants the league to swap Tigers.
Auburn’s Jay Jacobs made it clear Wednesday that he would like his program to change divisions with Missouri, a trade that would make financial and geographical sense and likely provide the league with more competitive balance.
The Western Division has won eight consecutive SEC title games, including the last three by powerhouse Alabama.
“Maybe it’s time to look at all that,” Jacobs said at the SEC’s annual spring meetings. “You can’t schedule based on where you think the easier piece is going to be, because you’ll end up jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.”
Jacobs spent 12 minutes answering questions, most of them about the hypothetical division change.
He expects conference decision-makers to at least discuss the issue at a later date.
“We’re going to have that conversation, about all of football,” Jacobs said. “That’s what we have to do. That’s what Commissioner (Greg) Sankey is really good about, ‘OK, this is where we are.’ You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. We’re going to keep growing. We’re going to keep getting better at what we’re doing. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
The SEC first installed the two-division format in 1992, after expanding to 12 teams by adding South Carolina and Arkansas. NCAA rules at the time required leagues to have at least 12 teams and separate divisions to hold a lucrative title game. The SEC expanded again in 2012, adding Texas A&M and then Missouri.
The NCAA amended its rules in January 2016, allowing leagues to eliminate divisions and still hold a title game between their top two teams. Several SEC administrators believe that would be the best setup in the playoff era, essentially giving the league a better chance of getting its champion into the four-team tournament.
It would require a major shakeup to the current system, though.
“It may just be an obvious observation, but it’s worked,” Sankey said. “Are we comfortable? We’ve said absolutely (even though) we’ve had the last couple years not 1 and 2. Now, there’s some years where we’ve had 1 and 2, in fact a number of those years. That’s a reality our membership has accepted at the present time.”
Jacobs wants to see it changed, and he would be willing to go to the single-division format. But he would prefer just swapping divisions with the other Tigers.
He pointed out that Missouri is geographically closer to teams in the West and changing divisions would save both schools money with shorter trips for football games as well as for other sports.
It also would make trips for fans more affordable, he said, especially those in St. Louis who might have a tough time getting to games in Gainesville, Florida or Columbia, South Carolina.
“If you look at the way the map’s set up, it’s kind of like common sense,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are a lot of rivalries involved. There are a lot of moving parts. That’s probably far away if that ever does happen.”
Several coaches noted that Auburn should be careful what it wishes for.
After all, the East was the dominant division between 1993 and 2002, winning six straight title games and eight of 10 thanks to Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
“I think things go in cycles,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Certainly the West has been very good over the last five, eight years, but certainly that can swing back. So I don’t know about balance, but certainly geographically, obviously, it would make more sense. One of the great things our league has tried to protect is some of the great rivalries that we do have. Unfortunately we have gotten away from some of those. ... I don’t want to lose those types of rivalries.”
That’s something Jacobs wouldn’t want to see, adamant that any kind of Tigers trade would include maintaining his team’s top two rivalries.
“The bottom line is we’re going to keep playing Georgia and we’re going to keep playing Alabama, and wherever we land we land,” he said. “If that means we may stay in the West for the next 20 years, whatever works out. Whatever we think is best for this league, gives us the best chance to get in the playoffs is what we’re going to do.”