DESTIN, Fla. — With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the Southeastern Conference is tweaking its football and basketball schedules.
Football coaches are having a tougher time deciding on what changes to make than their basketball counterparts.
“The consensus is that there’s not the right answer right now that suits everyone,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Mullen and the 13 other league coaches are debating whether to play an eight- or nine-game conference schedule and whether to maintain cross-division rivals like Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and LSU-Florida. It’s not an easy decision considering each school has different allegiances.
Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia all want to continue their longtime rivalries. LSU, meanwhile, would prefer to dump its annual game against Florida in favor of playing other Eastern Division teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky more often.
“It’s not because I’m opposed to playing Florida,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said. “I just think it creates a competitive inequity in the whole league. In my opinion, people are voting for their own self-interests, not what’s best for the whole league.”
Coaches presented their thoughts and concerns to athletic directors Wednesday. The ADs will make a recommendation to school presidents and chancellors today before the conference settles on a format for future schedules.
Moving to a nine-game schedule is a long shot at best. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina already have non-conference games against in-state rivals, so adding a ninth league game would make daunting schedules even more difficult.
The most likely scenario appears to be keeping an eight-game conference slate that includes one designated rival from the opposite division and a rotating game against the other six teams.
“Mississippi State is going to play Kentucky every year,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that’s disproportionate. I’m not for that. I’m not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. Again, it’s disproportionate. I think there should be an opportunity to see a greater segment of the conference. I think the opportunity to rotate two games as opposed to one game, not annually picking an arbitrary criteria to determine the champion.
“I’d say the majority would be for that.”
Um, not quite.
“I’ve been in this league for a while and I have a national championship ring from when my crossover games at the University of Florida that were Auburn, Alabama and LSU,” Mullen said. “Is that fair? But we still won a national title. I don’t see how there’s any relevance to that. It all balances out.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt laughed when told Miles said most coaches wanted to eliminate designated rivals.
“There are a lot of issues going on here, but some people think the rivals games are really important and some people think their rival games really aren’t that important,” Richt said. “Some of the rival games are because we played over a hundred years, and some of the rivals are because somebody arbitrarily said, ‘That’s your rival team.’ Some have a hard-felt emotion to it and some don’t.”
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said one option would be to try to preserve traditional crossover rivalries and let everyone else rotate two opponents annually.
“We’ve asked our people to look at that as one of the possible formats,” Slive said. “We have looked at that. There’s some real complexities with that. That’s a nice solution if it was available, but like everything else, every time we do something it raises another set of issues and you’ve got to balance those against the issues raised by another format.”