Can Divisional Realignment Fix SEC's Scheduling Issues?

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I've always liked the fact that the SEC's divisions are geographical, as opposed to what the ACC and Big Ten have. The divisions aren't precisely correct, as Nashville is west of Auburn, but that doesn't matter as long as you can remember that the two Alabama schools and two Tennessee schools are together.

I might be open to change now that Missouri, home of the "Gateway to the West", is in the East division. The contentious matter of SEC scheduling gets everyone's blood pressure up, and it could be possible that realigning the divisions might fix that problem. Getting rid of divisions entirely would be an elegant solution, but it would also require a change to NCAA rules in order to continue the SEC Championship Game. For this post, I'll assume that's not possible.

Yesterday's comments from LSU AD Joe Alleva highlight one of the biggest sticking points: permanent cross-division rivals. Some teams have meaningful designated rivals and some don't. Realigning would allow for most everyone to hook up with a meaningful cross-division rival so that just about everyone can agree on keeping that construct. While that still leaves the issue of teams not completing a full cross-division rotation until after 12 years if the eight-game schedule is kept, the fact of the matter is that you can't preserve enough of the SEC's best series without having permanent rivals.

Inspired by a comment that did a fairly good job of realigning things, I decided to see if I could make something even better. To help, I categorized some series into three buckets:

  • Necessities: Alabama-Auburn, Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-Georgia, Ole Miss-Miss State, Tennessee-Vanderbilt.
  • Preferable: Arkansas-LSU, Arkansas-Texas A&M, Auburn-Florida, Florida-Tennessee, Georgia-South Carolina, LSU-Ole Miss, LSU-Miss State, LSU-Texas A&M, Ole Miss-Tennessee, Missouri-Texas A&M, Tennessee-Kentucky
  • Nice to Have: Alabama-LSU, Alabama-Miss State, Alabama-Vanderbilt, Arkansas-Missouri, Arkansas-South Carolina, Florida-LSU, Georgia-Tennessee, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt

This was the best I could come up with, and of course I have my areas of bias and ignorance. The necessities must happen, full stop. The preferable series have historical significance or make great geographic sense. The nice to have series are less important but would be good to set up if possible. Some have historical significance in that they've been played a lot, but those of that kind here aren't as important from a competitive standpoint. Feel free in the comments to tell me nicely how I've made mistakes with these.

Here are the divisions I was able to make to try to have as many of these series happen as possible. For fun, I named the two divisions after the SEC's two most infamous trolls. You could also call them the Kramer and Slive divisions after the two commissioners who brought about league expansion. Call 'em whatever you want.

Finebaum Division Bianchi Division
Alabama Auburn
Arkansas South Carolina
Ole Miss Mississippi State
LSU Florida
Tennessee Georgia
Texas A&M Missouri
Vanderbilt Kentucky

The scorecard is as follows: 6/6 on necessities, 8/11 on preferable, and 6/8 on nice to have.

The current divisions do one better, scoring 9/11 on the preferable series. My divisions have Florida trade Tennessee for Auburn, Tennessee trade Kentucky for Ole Miss, and LSU lose Mississippi State. On the nice to have front, Alabama trades Mississippi State for Vanderbilt with the rest remaining the same.

Overall, the current divisions do a slightly better job at preserving important series. However, my divisions give most everyone a meaningful rivalry that either is historic or continues something that's been going since the last round of expansion 1992 (and pairs up the newbies). The rivalries also are pretty balanced; you'd be surprised how many permutations that are possible that preserve a lot of important series but end up with Georgia having a permanent rival who hasn't won the conference in decades, if at all. The divisions themselves are pretty balanced as well; the Finebaum division holds nine SEC titles since '92, while the Bianchi division has 11.

So what do you think? Realigning like this doesn't feel like a huge improvement, but it does increase the chance of preserving the permanent rival construct. Preserving the permanent rival construct is required to keep many of the conference's important and historic series going. Keeping many of the conference's important and historic series going is an absolute requirement to make sure the SEC is still the SEC after all the realignment dust has settled.

UPDATE: After the jump is an alternate format that preserves LSU-Mississippi State.

Pod Katt from And the Valley Shook pointed out to me that LSU's most-played game is against Mississippi State. Losing that would be a shame. So, I traded MSU for Vanderbilt and ended up with this:

Finebaum Division Bianchi Division
Alabama Auburn
Arkansas South Carolina
Ole Miss Georgia
LSU Florida
Tennessee Vanderbilt
Texas A&M Missouri
Mississippi State
Kentucky

It goes 6/6 on necessities, 9/11 on preferable (an improvement of one), and 4/8 on nice to have (loss of two).

LSU really shows the difficulties of trying to realign the divisions. Its longest series are with the Mississippi schools, but it also has a connection with Arkansas and Texas A&M. If you decide to keep all of them together, then you're 5/7 of the way to committing to the current division alignment. Swapping Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to get this table here means that all that's different from the current alignment is switching Auburn and Tennessee. In addition, the balance is thrown off by Tennessee getting Vanderbilt and Georgia getting Ole Miss as permanent rivals.

The alignment I first proposed above is certainly not perfect. It drops Tennessee-Kentucky, which has been played 105 times, and LSU-MSU, which has been played 102 times. That really sucks.

The thing though is there's currently a danger that permanent rivalries could go away if the talk out of the AD meetings is to be believed. If that happens without some kind of conference realignment, then we lose Auburn-Georgia (114 games, truly the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry) and Alabama-Tennessee (93 games). Plus, Missouri then doesn't get to play Texas A&M each year, which is pretty much the only request the school has of us.

The best plan going forward is definitely keeping the divisions and permanent rivals as they currently stand. However if it comes down to a choice of realignment or killing off permanent rivals, then I'm going with permanent rivals. Either way, something gets lost, but in realignment I feel like less is lost than in doing away with permanent rivals.

I will note that if you agree to sacrifice Alabama-Tennessee, then you can take the current divisions and then trade Auburn for Missouri. Bama would get Auburn as a permanent rival, and Missouri would get Georgia. That allows you make perfect geographic sense, keep a balance, and fulfill all of the other series I mentioned except Ole Miss-Tennessee. I just don't want to be the one who has to tell them that the Third Saturday in October is off, though.

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