While the first steps of the journey to Alabama’s 2020 football schedule are complete, there is still some distance to cover and, as always, it’s a trip the Crimson Tide must make carrying the burden of history.
Alabama knows how many games it will play (10, all against opponents from the Southeastern Conference) and when those games will start (Sept. 26). The dates for specific games that were on the previous schedule may stay more or less the same, but the Alabama-Georgia game, which can clearly no longer be played Sept. 19, has to move: maybe to a date a week later, or maybe somewhere deeper in the schedule.
There are two vacancies to fill with two new East Division opponents, and that’s where the questions begin, possibly untainted by politics and possibly not. One idea that had been in fairly wide circulation had been to simply have each team add the next two teams upcoming on its SEC rotation — for Alabama, that would mean Florida and Vanderbilt. That method would be based on a rotation determined years ago, and while it might not be entirely equal, it would at least be devoid of political and competitive bias.
It wouldn’t make everyone happy, though. No model is going to make everyone happy. Greg Sankey said Thursday that various models are being considered, but all models are only as good as the data that goes into them.
Alabama’s particular problem is two-fold. The first is, going into 2020 the Crimson Tide is once again the preseason favorite to win the league, and none of the five East Division teams that could be added (Kentucky, South Carolina and Missouri in addition to Florida and Vandy) are going to like that very much.
The second is the idea, strongly held in some parts, that the league office “favors” Alabama. Entire books have been written on the Alabama/SEC bias in Louisiana alone, some even in English. So no matter what the SEC ultimately decides, if it can in any way be perceived as “favorable” to Alabama, there will be billboards purchased and columns written among the low grumbling.
Alabama already has the East Division favorite, Georgia, and an improving Tennessee team on its schedule. The popular perception would be that Florida is the next team in the hypothetical pecking order, and pairing the Crimson Tide and the Gators would please everyone except, of course, Dan Mullen and the Gators, who are already set to play LSU and Ole Miss.
The solution to that knotty problem would be easier to discern if one knew what the priority for the SEC would be. If the goal is NFL-style parity scheduling, where everyone ideally finishes at .500 or a bit above, you’d simply have the best teams add the other best team from the other division. The problem there is that the NFL determines a champion with a playoff system where a team at 10-6 or even 9-7 has a reasonable chance to participate. The SEC needs a clearly dominant champion — not undefeated, perhaps, but better than 8-3, to make the College Football Playoff in the current four-game format.
So if you stack the schedule of your best contenders — if you throw LSU into Georgia’s slate to go with Alabama and Auburn, for example — are you helping yourself? Do you try to make teams happy to get to 6-4, if 6-4 doesn’t pay off in the postseason?
The final schedule will not make all 14 teams happy. That’s a certainty. What will be interesting will be whether a certain philosophy prevails, or naked politics.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt