Football schedulng in the Southeastern Conference isn’t necessarily the source of most conspiracy theories. That would be SEC officiating, which provides new fodder for the paranoia mill on every fall Saturday.
Scheduling comes close, though, largely because in a 14-team league that plays eight conference games, there is no way for schedules to be absolutely equitable. Furthermore, at most schools, the definition of “equitable” lies in a gray area that comes very close to meaning “favorable.” What looks like a perfectly fair Ole Miss schedule, for instance, might not look so great to Ole Miss. Some of the controversies about games have been alive longer than the players that are playing in the games.
For instance, LSU has complained about having Florida as its permanent divisional crossover opponent for decades, dating back to the precise moment when it became apparent that Florida was going to be tougher than Tennessee. When the Vols were a national powerhouse in the 1990s, everyone else in the West thought Alabama’s crossover schedule was perfectly fine.
All that is preface to a story that came out Tuesday from reporter Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover. Marcello said while there were still “obstacles,” Auburn, Georgia and the SEC were working to move the Auburn-Georgia game, the league’s oldest rivalry, from its traditional mid-November date to a Saturday earlier in the season.
That’s been an issue at Auburn recently. It is not just because Georgia and Alabama, Auburn’s late-year rivals, have been very good. It’s also because the schedule has gotten twisted in a way in which Auburn either plays both games at home (good) or both on the road (not so good.) And there is no problem with Auburn, or any league institution, trying to fix what it perceives as scheduling issues.
Alabama has done it. LSU has brought the rotation up for a vote at the SEC Meetings in Destin, Florida, although it didn’t get the presidential support it needed to bring about a change. Any good athletics director never stops looking for an edge (or a fair shake, depending on where you stand on that “equitable/favorable” thing.)
That doesn’t mean any schedule movement doesn’t have ripple effects. The issues, if the Auburn/Georgia game is ultimately moved, are (a) what is the new date and (b) what other teams have their schedule shuffled to accommodate the switch?
First, if Georgia is going to keep its traditional November closing stretch of a non-conference-don’t-call-it-a-cupcake game and then Georgia Tech, it would almost have to play an SEC game in that spot or the Bulldogs would be finishing league play on the first Saturday in November.
Does Auburn want to play Georgia and LSU on consecutive weekends? Is that better or worse? For an example of the ripple effect, let’s say Auburn plays Mississippi State in the current Georgia spot. Do the Bulldogs want an Alabama/Auburn/Ole Miss finishing stretch every year?
That’s not to say things can’t be worked out for everyone. It might be easier to work them out if the SEC adopted the Nick Saban-endorsed nine-game conference schedule, but that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
There is no real “problem” with Auburn and Georgia playing earlier — it would be an attractive television game, no matter what slot you put it in. But any new shuffle of the scheduling cards affects more than one team, and someone is bound to complain somewhere, at least until a botched targeting call gives them something new to complain about.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225