Will Muschamp weighs in on Auburn-to-the-East debate
Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs wants to talk about moving his Tigers from the SEC West to the SEC East.
“It makes more sense for Auburn,” he said this week at the SEC’s annual spring meetings.
Conference commissioner Greg Sankey doesn’t want to talk about moving the Tigers from the SEC West to the SEC East.
“As a friendly reminder, I would say that in the 2013-14 year, this conference spent a great deal of time at every level really looking across the landscape of options from a football scheduling standpoint and landed where we are currently, and it’s worked well,” he said.
Here’s an easy solution to their impasse: Get rid of the SEC West and the SEC East. When the SEC sprang the two-division, championship-game format on the rest of college football in 1992, it was considered bold and risky. Now it’s time to make another bold move, with the added bonus that there is very little risk this time around.
The fear in the ’90s was that adding a conference title game would cost the SEC a shot at playing for the national title. Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators almost made that fear a reality in that first title game, but Antonio Langham intercepted Shane Matthews to preserve Alabama’s conference title and spot in the national title game, and the rest is gilded history for the league.
Everyone else soon enough followed the SEC’s lead, and the divisional, championship game format is now the norm in the Power 5, but times have changed. Most importantly, NCAA rules no longer mandate conferences have two divisions to stage a title game, which makes divisions cumbersome relics.
This is not an argument to kill the title game. That would be foolishness. Simply put all 14 league teams into one group and let the top two teams at the end of the year play in the championship game with CFB Playoff rankings breaking any three-way ties.
The list of pros is short but significant:
▪ Every team in the SEC would play every other team at least once every two years. Theoretically, South Carolina and Ole Miss are in the same conference, but Gamecocks fans can be forgiven for not noticing. South Carolina and the Rebels haven’t played since 2009. The 2009 season is also the last time the Gamecocks played in Alabama’s historic Bryant-Denny Stadium. That’s not scheduled to happen again until 2025. If the league really is a family, then USC and Alabama are the cousins who see each other only when somebody really important dies.
▪ Almost every significant rivalry in the league could be saved, or even restored, by giving every team three permanent opponents and five rotating opponents.
The list of cons is: What exactly?
This concept already has been floated and impressively mapped out by SBNation.com. Under their plan, South Carolina would play Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt every year and then play Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M in even years and Alabama, Auburn, Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in odd years.
That is a markedly superior rotation to the one the league currently has, but the notion of such a radical change was as popular as Jim Harbaugh at this year’s SEC’s meetings. It’s clear the movers and shakers in the league’s administration just don’t have the stomach for another dynamic change on the heels of the 2013 scheduling conversation, not to mention the addition of the College Football Playoff format along with several other agenda items laid out this week.
“Yes, I have talked to Jay,” Sankey said almost wearily. “(Moving Auburn to the East) is still not an agenda item.”
Jacobs is the only person at the moment pushing this envelope, and that might be just because he’s tired of playing Alabama, LSU, etc., every year. Whatever his motivation, he’s the only person here who would even comment on the idea of eliminating the conference’s divisions.
“I think everything (should) be on the table,” he said. “We have to keep finding ways to fill up our stadiums and stay competitive.”
Swapping Auburn for Missouri in the SEC East makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever looked at a map, but it’s an awkward and short-sighted step. Several SEC coaches have trumpeted Sankey’s ability to see around corners, a crucial asset for any dynamic leader, and what’s around the corner is a future where divisions for divisions-sake is a thing of the past.