Slive on 9-game schedule: "The playoff impacts how we will schedule. I am open-minded about scheduling in future."— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) April 29, 2013
It may end up sometime in the not-too-distant future that the SEC will go with one as well. Strength of schedule concerns in light of the playoff are one potential rationale, as Mike Slive mentioned yesterday, and the upcoming conference television network could be another. Georgia versus Arkansas will do a lot more for the SECN than Georgia versus Arkansas State would. I am fairly convinced that the latter is the more likely catalyst than the former, given how tough some eight-game SEC schedules can be, but we shall see.
A nine-game schedule wouldn't be a bad idea merely from a conference cohesion standpoint, though. The current setup where only one cross-division game rotates each year means it will take a long time for everyone to play everyone else. The conference had such a rotation for the first decade of divisional play, as everyone used to have two designated rivals from the other division, but that went away in order to increase connectivity in scheduling. The 6-1-1 format is even worse for connectedness than 5-2-1 was because of the larger size of the league.
Senator Blutarsky proposed reconfiguring the divisions in order to make a nine-game schedule work. My favorite way to make a nine-game schedule work is to junk the divisions entirely.
To be clear from the start, the SEC would have to get a waiver from the NCAA to still hold the SEC Championship Game without divisions. The SECCG is the league's signature event, and I don't think doing without it is worth making what follows come into being. However, it's worth pursuing such a waiver because the benefits would be significant.
The idea, first proposed here in 2011 by AllTideUp, is to assign everyone five permanent rivals instead of having divisions. Five spots on the schedule would be the same every year, and the remaining four would have eight teams rotating through. Everyone would play everyone else in any given three-year span, and any player who stays at least four years would have the opportunity to play in every SEC stadium. Well, except for UF and UGA players due to the Cocktail Party, of course. That sure beats the heck out of the 6-1-1 rotational format.
I took a crack at giving everyone their five permanent rivals. I used the research I did for the historical series maps to make sure that the oldest and most historical series would happen, but I also tried to keep things balanced. The only historical series that I had cut for balance's sake was Ole Miss-Vanderbilt. Sorry, guys.
Using all 14 teams' conference records since 1992 (including pre-SEC play for Missouri and Texas A&M), I looked at the combined conference winning percentage of the five rivals I gave to each team. I wanted to have everyone's combined winning percentage of permanent rivals be within .020 of .500, and I was able to get there for everyone but Auburn. That's what the Tigers get for picking historic fights with Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State.
So here are my proposed five rivals for each team, listed in alphabetical order. In parenthesis at the end is the combined conference winning percentage of the five proposed rivals over the past 21 seasons.
Alabama: Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee (.515)
Arkansas: LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M (.489)
Auburn: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt (.524)
Florida: Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee (.511)
Georgia: Auburn, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt (.484)
Kentucky: Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt (.514)
LSU: Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M (.494)
Ole Miss: Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri (.506)
Mississippi State: Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss (.501)
Missouri: Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M (.501)
South Carolina: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Vanderbilt (.500)
Tennessee: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt (.500)
Texas A&M: Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee (.483)
Vanderbilt: Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee (.511)
I'm not totally satisfied with these, but it's a good first try. Think you can do better? You very well could! Here is my spreadsheet. Go to town on it and let me know if your groupings are better than mine are.