DESTIN, Fla. – In one way, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks back fondly on his time as the head coach at Duke in an eight-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
Steve Spurrier speaks to reporters Tuesday at the SEC Spring Meetings in Sandestin, Fla.
“The most fair conference I was ever in,” Spurrier said. “Everybody played each other, so it was very simple.”
With SEC spring meetings beginning Tuesday on the Gulf Coast, Spurrier is receiving credit – and a growing amount of attention -- for one item aimed in that direction.
Football coaches were to discuss Spurrier’s idea that SEC divisional championships be awarded strictly on a team’s record in divisional games. In other words, when East teams meet West teams, those games would not count toward the standings.
“You'd have a true division champion to play the other division champion,” Spurrier said.
The impetus for Spurrier’s plan was South Carolina’s 2011 season, during which the Gamecocks beat Georgia and went 5-0 in the division yet lost out to the Bulldogs (7-1 in the league) for the Eastern title because of losses to West teams Arkansas and Auburn.
“We've lost seven games in the last two years, and five of them are to Auburn and Arkansas,” Spurrier said. “We were pretty good against them other guys, I guess.”
This upcoming season, South Carolina is scheduled to face Arkansas and travel to LSU from the West, while Georgia draws a road game at Auburn and Ole Miss.
Spurrier's idea continues to generate discussion in spite of the fact that many involved consider it a long shot at this stage to actually be adopted through legislative circles. Wheels don’t appear to be spinning too much on this issue yet. UGA athletics director Greg McGarity said after Tuesday morning meetings with the league’s other ADs that the idea had not been addressed at all in their circles.
Mark Richt says of Spurrier's idea: "I don't know if he'd feel that way every year, but this year he'd probably feel good about it."
“I guess the coaches will meet with the commissioner and talk about it at that level and find out what the vote is among that group,” McGarity said. “I'm not sure if it's an agenda item or not.”
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said after Tuesday's meetings that the proposal "will be brought to the table for our athletic directors to think about," though Slive cast his own doubts about the idea.
"It's hard for me to think about a conference game that doesn't count," Slive said.
UGA coach Mark Richt said the topic was broached during coaches' meetings Tuesday and will be revisited during Wednesday morning's session.
"There was some discussion on it," Richt said. "But tomorrow we're going to dig in a little bit more on it."
Richt was clear in saying earlier Tuesday that, “I don’t think it’s going to change.”
“Every man has a right to his opinion, and if (Spurrier) gets it changed, then good for him,” Richt said. “I don't know if he'd feel that way every year, but this year he'd probably feel good about it. … The reality is in our league play if you lose to somebody head to head or beat somebody head to head, you've basically got a two-game lead on that team. So there is an advantage to that still. It's not like there's no advantage or no difference. There is a difference.”
“There's a few (coaches) that do (support it),” Spurrier said. “I don't know how many don't either. We haven't talked about it thoroughly. It really doesn't affect too many teams. It probably only affects us Eastern Division guys right now, if you know what I mean. The Western guys have been better, haven't they?”
Nick Saban sounded off strongly against the idea of only division games counting.
In comments Tuesday, Spurrier tied the idea to the conference’s quandary over how to schedule cross-divisional games now with 14 teams. The league appears set to approve a 6-1-1 platform each year with one permanent rival, which in Georgia’s case would be Auburn, Alabama against Tennessee, Missouri against Arkansas and so on.
“For Derek Dooley to play (Alabama) every year,” Spurrier said, “it sort of hurts his chance to maybe win the Eastern Division because Alabama has been one of the best in the country year-in and year-out. If Tennessee was in position to win their division, they'd probably like to play a lesser team than Alabama. … If the division games counted on who wins the division, then you could play whoever you like on the other.”
Dooley has said in the past that the idea is worth debating.
Other SEC coaches, like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and LSU’s Les Miles (in comments to the Birmingham News), have voiced support for Spurrier’s idea.
Franklin said Tuesday, “I think it's a valid point. It's something that needs to be discussed.”
Other coaches have lined up against it, among them Richt, Florida’s Will Muschamp and Alabama’s Nick Saban, who was outspoken in his comments Tuesday.
“It's big when we play Georgia. It's big when we play Florida. It's big when we play other teams in the East,” Saban said. “So you're going to minimize the importance of those games by saying they don't count? There's no perfect way to schedule. You can look at the NFL and say, 'Well, this team got in the playoffs, but they didn't play all these good teams.' Well, I know there were teams in the East last year that didn't play Arkansas, LSU or us and we were 1-2-3 at one point in time. But how many times does that happen? That might happen every now and then.
“I just think that there's no perfect way to do it. But I do think you're going to sort of minimize the importance of cross-divisional games if you say they don't count toward the championship. Then we're really not an SEC. We're really just an East and a West, so why would we even play the games?”
McGarity echoed those thoughts when asked his take on the issue.
“It's kind of the rub of the green,” McGarity said. “It's who you have that year, and it always evens out. But I don't like the idea of saying, 'Well, this game doesn't matter as much as that other game in the conference.' I don't think that's ever been the stance, and I would hate to put less emphasis on a conference game than any other game.”