DESTIN, Fla. – Future football scheduling formats dominated discussion Wednesday morning at the SEC Spring Meetings despite the fact that nothing was settled before coaches exited in the afternoon.
LSU coach Les Miles said he does not support a permanent annual cross-division rival in future SEC schedules.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive described “vigorous” and “very thoughtful” discussion about which direction to take schedules after the 2012 season, as coaches met and then joined the league’s athletics directors for a joint session to cap the day's schedule.
“The thing that we came to is we couldn't come to a consensus as coaches,” UGA coach Mark Richt said, “because everybody had their own unique dynamic that one thing made sense for one, but it doesn't make sense for the other. We can kind of feel the pain of the athletic directors and the commissioner as far as trying to figure out what's best for the league.
"It's going to be one of those decisions that whatever is being made, I think, some are going to like it and some aren't. That's just the way it is right now.”
The topic to be settled first is the format for future schedules with 14 teams and not yet the actual schedules themselves. At the heart of the debate is whether the league will maintain permanent cross-division rivals on an annual basis.
Formats discussed Wednesday included the 6-1-1 format, which includes the annual rival from another division to go with a rotating cross-divisional opponent and six division games and a 6-2 format that would not feature an annual rival.
Coaches even got into the possibility of a nine-game conference schedule that would feature a 6-1-2 format with a permanent rival and two rotating cross-divisional games.
“(The nine-game possibility) was discussed today,” Slive said. “Whether or not it has any serious traction is another question. … How often do you play one another? How do you balance the schedule? How do you maintain rivalries? How do you create new rivalries? How often are you going to see teams? Some people want permanent rivals. Others might not want permanent rivals. Those are the 3-4 different areas that are common to each format.”
Basically, coaches finally had a forum to cover much of the same ground that athletics directors had traveled during meetings the past five months, and as UGA athletics director Greg McGarity described it, “They’re all over the place.”
Tennessee AD Dave Hart is a strong proponent of keeping an annual rivalry game with Alabama.
“We said the format, period, needs work,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “If Mississippi State’s going to play Kentucky every year, I think that’s disproportionate. I’m not for that. I’m not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. I think, again, that’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, and therefore not really annually picking them on arbitrary criteria, to determine your champion.”
Other coaches, like Richt, were on the other side of the debate.
"I'm not going to be the one to say we shouldn't play Auburn every year," Richt said. "I think that's a great, traditional rival game and we should continue to play Auburn every year. So my vote would be 6-1-1."
The vote, however, will not be up to the coaches.
The next step is for the athletics directors to vote and turn their recommendation over Friday to the school presidents, who will then make a final call based on that.
“Our athletic directors will think it through,” Slive said, “and if they're ready on Friday, they'll decide on a format. And if they're not, they'll look some more. But I anticipate by Friday afternoon we'll have a format.”
Slive said the “leader in the clubhouse” is the 6-1-1 format that would preserve annual rivalry games like Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee. Athletics directors from each of those four schools support that model as a way to keep those games.
“I feel very strongly that we need to maintain that rivalry,” UT athletics director Dave Hart said, “but no decisions have been made yet. We'll continue to have conversations and will through the rest of the week, and the commissioner will wrap it all up on Friday.”
Mark Richt: "I'm not going to be the one to say we shouldn't play Auburn every year."
According to McGarity, Florida’s Jeremy Foley also wants an annual permanent game, since Foley wants to maintain an annual rivalry with LSU.
LSU athletics director Joe Alleva, however, said a 6-1-1 format would be “unfair” and create “a competitive inequity in the conference,” though Alleva does think it will ultimately be implemented.
“As of right now, I think that’s probably what will happen,” Alleva said. “I think there will be some discussion to go to a 6-2 model, but I don’t think there’s enough votes in the room to go to a 6-2 model.”
Richt said that if a 6-1-1 is implemented, the second cross-divisional game would change every year rather than being on a two-year, home-and-home basis.
Summarizing the situation, Slive said it was reminiscent of 1992 when Arkansas and South Carolina first joined the conference.
“The league had to go through exactly the same process,” Slive said. “What happens, really, is that in the short term there are some difficulties, but over time traditions build and rivalries build and they develop. I anticipate over time we will be as cohesive and as strong as we have been.”
*** One scheduling topic that did not appear to have made it past Wednesday’s meetings was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s proposal of having non-divisional games not count in the league standings in determining who makes the SEC title game.
“The more that was discussed, the more everybody understood that's probably not going to happen,” Richt said. “Your cross-over games are going to have to count. ... Most everybody realized that's just the way it's going to have to be, and over time, in any given year it may be good for you, it may not. And really, you don't even know until the season is played who is really the toughest teams in the league. That's why you play. So I think everybody -- most everybody -- backed off on that.”
That included Miles, who had voiced support for Spurrier plan in the past.
“I think I was moved,” Miles said, “when everyone said, ‘You know, how can you play a game in your conference that did not count?’”