Given the historic dynamic between the athletic departments – and especially the fan bases – of Alabama and Auburn, almost any proposal that one instruction puts forward is going to be viewed with healthy skepticism by the other. That’s especially true when the proposal is as dramatic as reconfiguring the divisional structure of the Southeastern Conference.
Over the past few weeks, Auburn representatives have pushed the topic of realignment, specifically moving Auburn out of the West Division and into the East, swapping places with Missouri in a move that makes perfect geographical sense. The first person to float a trial ball out of Auburn was the former athletics director, Pat Dye. In practice, any Pat Dye idea is going to become a Jay Jacobs idea, too, so Jacobs, the current AU AD, raised the topic again at this week’s SEC meetings in Destin.
The tentative swap hasn’t gotten much traction and won’t be on this week’s agenda, according to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. That couldn’t have come as any great surprise to Auburn officials. Their idea is probably to plant a seed now and then see how it grows over the course of a couple of years.
That won’t stop Alabama fans from harboring suspicions, of course. Mistrust is a part of most rivalries. Some of the theories floated by Crimson Tide fans are of the usual extreme sort that can come from either side. Frankly, it’s silly to argue that Auburn is “afraid” to stay in the West, or even that the East would be “easier.” Yes, Auburn is looking out for its own best interests. All institutions so. The logic isn’t hard to see.
Moving to the East would be a good move for Auburn. They would almost certainly have four marquee rivalry games annually — Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. I will add a few more thoughts on whether AU would absolutely be “guaranteed” that there would be no changes in the series later in the column.
That means every season would have two guaranteed high-dollar, television-friendly home games on the schedule. With every bit of due respect to LSU, Texas A&M and the rest of the West, that’s not currently the case. Auburn-Florida and Auburn-Tennessee, as a pair of series, have tremendous history. Furthermore, those states – especially Florida – have far more exposure value for AU than Arkansas or Mississippi. That’s not just a football consideration but an important factor for the school as a whole.
Whether Auburn can find enough working partners to execute their idea is a different question. The first one would be Alabama. The Alabama-Auburn series means a great deal in this state, obviously, and has the weight of the state legislature behind it, but Jacobs’ unilateral proclamation that AU “would still have Alabama” – without asking Alabama officials about their thoughts – was not an endearing first step.
This isn’t an issue where Auburn can fly solo. My idea to have hippos on jet skis in Lake Tuscaloosa is, I think, a good one but I am not sure I can get the mayor and the City Council to agree. If they don’t, I’m stuck with a lot of disgruntled hippos.
That doesn’t mean Auburn’s idea doesn’t have some merit, especially for Auburn. It would probably be good for Missouri, too. But there would be ramifications for all SEC schools and in the time it will take to discuss them, the entire landscape of the SEC might have already changed.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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