South Carolina Gamecocks‘ head coach Steve Spurrier finally broke his silence and decided to go public with his solution to the SEC’s scheduling conundrum. While his approach would be an excellent compromise, the league would be wise to keep the existing format.
The Ol’ Ball Coach’s solution is very simple. It calls for the league to keep its current eight-game schedule and to abolish permanent crossover games. Each team would play two opponents from the other division on a rotational basis. If classic matchups like the Auburn Tigers – Georgia Bulldogs or Alabama Crimson Tide – Tennessee Volunteers weren’t on the SEC schedule, the schools could still play the contest as non-conference game.
In short, this plan would offer a little something for everybody. With no permanent crossovers, the top teams from the East and West would meet much more often, eliminating any concerns about competitive balance. At the same time, some of the South’s most heated rivalries would continue to take place every year, allowing the conference to keep some of the storied border wars that made it great.
With that said, the SEC brass should not adopt Spurrier’s approach.
First of all, I don’t think that permanent crossovers need to go away. Sure, some of these rivalries date back much further than others, but each of these series helped make the SEC brand into the gold standard that it is today. If the league wants to change up some of the permanent rivalries over time—like it will do next year when Texas A&M – South Carolina and Missouri – Arkansas will become protected matchups—that’s fine. But, there’s no need to do so, since the permanent crossovers are actually much more competitive than people think.
Why toss aside tradition when it helped get you to the top of the mountain?
However, the biggest problem with Spurrier’s proposal is that it will hurt the conference financially. Whether the game counts in the league standings or not, whenever two SEC teams face off in the regular season, one of them has to lose. While this unnecessary loss doesn’t seem like a big deal, it could mean the difference between the SEC landing multiple teams in the College Football Playoff or just sending the league champion. At a minimum, the losing team will go to a lesser bowl or perhaps miss the postseason entirely.
Either way, the SEC stands to lose plenty of postseason revenue by allowing teams to play “non-conference” conference games. No one in his right mind is going to go along with an approach that costs the league money.
So what’s the solution to this problem?
Simple: the league should keep the existing 6-1-1 format and beef up its non-conference schedule. Instead of playing a ninth SEC game, each school should take the opportunity to schedule one or more teams from one of the other power conferences. That way, it can prove to the nation who the toughest conference in the land is without putting its own squads in danger of missing the postseason.