CBS Sports thought it was BREAKING NEWS recently when they reported that Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs admitted out loud that he would rather his football team be in the SEC East instead of the West. This is not breaking news. When Ar-Kansas and South Carolina joined the SEC for the 1992 season, thus making the conference eligible to split into two divisions, this same thing was being discussed. The schedules were only 11 games back then (as opposed to 12 now). There was debate over whether there should be 7 conference games on the schedule or 8. Most seemed to prefer 7, where you would play your 5 division foes every year, 1 permanent game with a team from the other division, and 1 game that would rotate through the other teams in the other division not already on your schedule. Auburn objected and insisted on either 8 games or for it to be placed in the East division, with it’s 1 permanent opponent from the West being Alabama (obviously). Why? Because while ‘Bama is Auburn’s biggest rival, the team they have played more than anyone else is Georgia. These two form the oldest college football series, having played nearly every year since the 1880s. Additionally, there was enough bad blood between Auburn and Florida that Auburn didn’t want to lose that game off the schedule. The rest of the conference relented and agreed to an 8-game schedule with each school having 2 permanent games with opponents in the opposite division. Auburn would have Georgia and Florida as permanent opponents from the East.
Fast-forward to prep for the 2012 season. In the first step toward the inevitable four super-conferences with 16 teams each and a break from the NCAA to form their own association, the Pac 10 expended to 12 teams, and the ACC, Big 10 and SEC expanded to 14. The SEC pilfered Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12. For reasons known to no man, there was no discussion of realignment. Texas A&M was put in the West division with Alabama, Ar-Kansas, Auburn, LSU, Misipi and Misipi State. Missouri, despite being further west than every SEC school except A&M, was put in the East with Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. With each team now having 6 opponents within its division, the permanent inter-division games were reduced from 2 to 1. Auburn lost its annual Florida game, and hasn’t played them since 2011.
Now here we are in 2017, and Jacobs is calling for the move that should have been made as soon as A&M and Mizzou were brought in – Auburn to the East and Mizzou to the West. This will bring about some schedule issues. Obviously, Auburn will want its game with the Crimson Elephants to be its permanent West division opponent. But just like Auburn has a longer-running series with Georgia, ‘Bama has a longer-running series with Tennessee. (If you didn’t know, there was a 40-year period in the early 20th century where the 2 Alabama schools didn’t play each other, and only resumed the rivalry when the state legislature threatened to drastically reduce both schools’ funding unless the game came back – hence the Tigers playing more games against the Dawgs and the Tide with more games against the Vols.) Who would ‘Bama choose? They would fight like the devil to not have to choose at all.
The CBS Sports reporter that “broke” the “news” of Jacobs’ desire proposes the SEC go to a 9-game conference schedule so that each team can still have 2 permanent opponents from the other division. That would take care of the Tide, and would likely mean Auburn can not only keep the Iron Bowl, but probably an annual game with LSU as well. I would take that a step further and ban the teams from playing any Division I-AA – ahem, I mean, Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) – teams. Those games are what I call paycheck games. The visiting team – someone like Jacksonville State, Tennessee-Martin, North Carolina A&T, etc. – gets a percentage of gate receipts for playing a big team. Their haul can be $300,000-$500,000. For these tiny schools, playing 2 or 3 of these games goes a long way to funding their football programs. The power conference team gets an easy 77-3 win where their starters get to sit out the second half and the 2nd- and 3rd-string guys get to play. Of course, they’re usually playing to a crowd of about 25,000 in a 100,000-seat stadium, because the casual fans get bored out of their skulls and leave. Only super-die-hards at home keep watching while the rest of us find more competitive games to watch. While the funding for the little school is a big help to them, the super-conferences need to eliminate these games from their schedule so they can take on a 9-game conference schedule.
Of course this is just the next step to the super-conferences. The ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac 12 are eventually going to pilfer teams from the Big 12 and form four conferences of 16 teams each, then they will break away from the NCAA and form their own association. The ACC is going to insist Notre Dame to either join in all sports or kick them out. The Pac 12 will take the 4 Texas teams from the Big 12, the SEC will take the 2 Oklahoma teams, the Big 10 will take the 2 Kansas teams. The ACC will take West Virginia. If they are successful in brow-beating Notre Dame to join fully in football, they will have their 16, and Iowa State will be left out in the cold. If Notre Dame holds their ground, look for the ACC to evict them fully, and throw every dollar they can find at Maryland to get them to come back to the ACC. If successful, the Big Ten simply replaces them with Iowa State.
This is so much more fun than politics, isn’t it?