For years LSU head coach Les Miles and his athletic director Joe Alleva have been on a campaign to get the Southeastern Conference schedule changed.
Currently, the SEC uses a 6-1-1 format meaning each team plays all the members of their division — that’s the six. They also play one rotating team from the opposite division and one permanent opponent from the division across the way.
For LSU, that permanent “1” is Florida and they’ll be the first to tell you that the arrangement isn’t fair.
“I am very disappointed that the leaders of the SEC disregard the competitive advantage that permanent partners award to certain schools. It is definitely an advantage that should not exist in such a great league,” Alleva told Ross Dellenger of The Baton Rouge Advocate on Sunday night.
Alleva is right, in a sense. Florida and LSU have been cross-divisional opponents since the league expanded in 1992. Since that time, Florida has represented the East in the SEC Championship game 10 times, more than every other team in the conference
Florida also has the third-highest winning percentage in the SEC (.718) trailing only LSU (.781) and Georgia (.732). The 6-1-1 format forces LSU to play Florida, who traditionally has been the cream of the crop in the East. In the last 10 years, Florida and LSU have faced off as nationally ranked opponents nine times. Traditional rivals Auburn and Georgia can only boast that same feat five time and Alabama and Tennessee can pound their chest to that achievement just once over the same time period.
Is it fair for LSU to have to play Florida every season while Mississippi State plays Kentucky? No. Will Muschamp doesn’t think the schedule is fair. The head coach of the Gators has been on both sides of the rivalry — he spent four years at LSU. “It isn’t all fair all the time, and that’s part of it when you’re in a league and you’ve got 14 universities being represented,” Muschamp said on the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday.
LSU fans are quick to point to the Alabama and Tennessee rivalry as another injustice. That viewpoint is short sided. Tennessee has had a few down years but they were right up there with Florida as a power in the East in the nineties and took six of the 10 contests in the decade. Tennessee hasn’t won a game against Alabama since 2007, but the outrage over canceling the “Third Saturday in October” would be tremendous. And the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” between Auburn and Georgia has put the two universities against each other all but four years since 1892. How would you justify getting rid of a rivalry like that?
It’s that tradition that SEC commissioner Mike Slive pointed to as one of the main factors in keeping the 6-1-1 format.
“Tradition matters in the SEC, and there is no denying that tradition was a significant factor in this decision because it protects several long-standing cross-division conference rivalries,” Slive said in a release on Sunday night.
LSU has been vocal about their disdain for the perceived unfairness of the scheduling, but what about Florida? The Gators also have to face off with LSU each season and the Tigers have the best winning percentage in the league since 2000. Not to mention a yearly date with FSU at the end of the season. LSU does not boast the same yearly out of conference rivalry that Florida has to contend with. It’s something an outspoken former coach of Florida made a point of in an interview with ESPN.com.
“To me, Florida’s got the toughest schedule of any of us,” Spurrier told Alex Scarborough of ESPN. “That’s a tough deal for Coach [Will] Muschamp. He can’t complain about it and can’t say anything about it, but I’ll say something: He’s got the toughest schedule in the conference with only six home games. They’ve got Alabama and LSU next year. Did you know that? That’s brutal.”
Has Will Muschamp complained about a schedule that includes LSU, Alabama, Florida State? No, well, at least not publically. And he won’t. Muschamp is in a unique situation having coached at both institutions and has come out publically in favor of the two school’s meeting annually.
Not to mention LSU’s other opponent from the east in 2014 is Kentucky. You won’t hear Tiger fans crying foul when the Wildcats come to town in October.
So why is the complaining so one-sided? Miles says he just wants to play a fair and equitable schedule. Spurrier knows that there is no way to play a “fair” schedule.
“There’s nothing fair about college football. You know that, don’t you?” Spurrier asked in the ESPN article with Scarborough. “If it was fair, Alabama would have to sit out a year of recruiting. They’ve had the No. 1 class five out of six years. That’s like giving an NFL team the first five picks in the first and second round every year — almost.”
What about a nine game conference schedule?
Another argument against the current format is that it doesn’t allow for teams to play every conference school during the typical span of a four-year career or college experience for a student. As the schedule is currently composed, it would take six years for Florida to play every team in the west and 12 years for each school to host or travel to a cross-divisional opponent.
A nine game conference schedule could fix that by playing a 6-1-2 format. In this format, schools could keep their cross-divisional rival and rotate two schools (rather than one) from the opposite division, cutting in half the time that it would take to play every school in the conference.
The SEC decided against a schedule overhaul, instead offering up a provision that requires each team to schedule a game against an opponent from the ACC, Pac-12, Big TEN or Big 12 each season.
While this helps with strength of schedule — as if playing in the SEC doesn’t help your strength of schedule enough — it doesn’t change the fact that a student who enrolls at Florida next fall will only have the opportunity to see five of the seven west division teams over the next four years.
However, the SEC is a business and business is booming. College football as a whole has never been more popular than it is today and the SEC is king in college football.
“There’s no perfect answer to please everybody. We did what was best for our league,” Muschamp said. “We all have a hidden agenda for whatever university we represent, and past that it’s what’s best for the SEC. That was the decision that was made, so I support it.”
Why change a business model that is clearly working?
The answer is you don’t, and therefore they didn’t.