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Don't Weep Over Losing Florida-Tennessee on CBS

Senator Blutarsky has now twice, with some company from elsewhere, noted the reported fact that the 2012 SEC schedule may result in Florida-Tennessee not being the CBS game of the week. If Verne, Gary, and Tracy end up going to Alabama-Arkansas instead (and really, they should), it would be the first time since CBS got the SEC contract in 1996 that the Gators and Vols don't end up on CBS. It's the only series that has been shown on CBS in every single year of the deal.

I find it fitting that conference realignment is likely killing the streak of Florida-Tennessee being the big SEC season kickoff game on CBS. After all, it was conference realignment that really created the series in the first place. The two schools met just 16 times out of 58 possible meetings between 1932 and 1991 (both schools didn't field teams in 1943), just barely above once in every four years. The 27.6% rate at which the teams met is tied for the sixth-lowest of the pre-1992 era of the conference.

To be sure, the series got really heated really quickly when Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer were battling it out. It's also not in danger of going away, as the schools will play each other every year as division opponents. It might even return to its position as CBS's initial SEC game after a one-year hiatus, as the conference has made it clear time and again that the 2012 slate is only a one-off deal. The permanent schedule with a 14-team league has not been decided yet, and UF-UT might again run unopposed during the first week in which CBS broadcasts conference games.

I agree with the Senator that the real story here is not the absence of the Orange and Blue versus the Orange and White on CBS, but rather the indication that expansion is going to muck around with a number of conference customs. I too am concerned about it, but I keep reminding myself that the 2012 slate is just a one-time thing. They're going to take some more time over the coming year to try to get things right.

Before 1992 expansion, 17 series between existing SEC teams were played at least 75% of the time. All of them but Ole Miss-Tennessee (84.5% rate) were preserved when the conference did its initial rotation where everyone had two designated rivals. Only two more of those series in Alabama-Vanderbilt (96.6%) and Auburn-Florida (96.6%) stopped being annual contests once the conference switched to the current format where everyone has only one designated rival.

It sucks that those three series had to end their annual nature, but something had to give when the conference expanded to 12 teams. Even so, 14 of the 17 series that had been played at least three quarters of the time before 1992 have been played every single year after 1992. That's a pretty good job by the conference leadership. And while Tennessee lost its near-annual series with Ole Miss and Florida eventually lost its annual series with Auburn, they both found a great series with each other. The schools aren't near each other geographically and don't on the surface appear to be similar enough to spark a rivalry, but it ended up being the signature series of the SEC's first decade as a 12-team conference.

It's too early yet to know what will be lost from this round of realignment, as again, the 2012 schedule is a one-time thing. Something will be lost though, especially if they really do stick to an eight-game conference schedule. However, we are gaining a couple of great schools in Texas A&M and Missouri. We might look back in a decade and see that the Bear Bryant Bowl between Bama and A&M was a great series in the West and Georgia-Missouri was a whale of a rivalry in the East.

The one-year eclipse of Florida-Tennessee on CBS is a warning that change is indeed coming, but that series itself is proof that change is not necessarily a bad thing. We're likely to see the birth of a few new good rivalries, and that's certainly not a bad thing either.