How to build your own 16-team SEC schedule

Scheduling talk is in the air, as a new change to NCAA rules will give conferences more leeway in determining their champions.

Previously, a conference with at least 12 members could only have a championship game if those members were split into two divisions with each division winner playing for the title. Leagues smaller than 12 could still hold one provided they play a full round-robin schedule, which is why the ten-team Big 12 could have one.

The NCAA Oversight Committee just yesterday approved a rule that removes the division requirement. The Pac-12 immediately announced that its top two teams in terms of conference win percentage will play for the title regardless of division affiliation.

Two more divergent schedule types that have been widely discussed are now possible too: pods and permanent rivals. Pods have actually been tried before when the WAC expanded to 16 teams in the 1990s. It was short lived and not generally seen as successful.

The permanent rivals format hasn’t been tried, but the ACC is seriously considering a switch to it. It’s proposing a 3-3-5 format: each team will have three permanent rivals, and then they’ll do alternating home-and-home series with the ten other conference teams. It’s different than pods because with pods, there are four groups of teams that all have permanent rivalries with each other. In a 3-5-5, there aren’t closed groups like that. Virginia Tech might have annual series with Virginia, Boston College, and Miami, but Miami might have FSU and Georgia Tech in addition to VT.

In the eventual 16-team SEC, it’d most likely take the form of 3-6-6 in a nine-game schedule. It has the advantage of making sure everyone plays a home-and-home (neutral site rivalries aside) with everyone else at least once every four years.

That means any player who sticks around at a school for his full eligibility will have the entire SEC experience. It’s preferable to the interminably long divisional rotation that exists now, where ten years after expansion Georgia has still never visited Texas A&M and Missouri has never been to Auburn.

Football scheduling is the most contentious thing the SEC does. Last time around, the conference missed the deadline by a whole two years, making one-off schedules for both 2012 and 2013 before shuffling a couple cross-division rivalries and establishing the current rotation in 2014.

No matter what format wins out, there are going to be a lot of people spittin’ mad about it. It Just Means More, after all.

So since arguing about scheduling is one of the most fun things in SEC country, I want to help you out by giving you a template for creating your own 3-6-6 system. The 3 is the part everyone’s already starting to fight over, though you can get extra credit for trying to balance out the -6-6 part. Whoo buddy, there be a lot of dragons in setting up those rotations.

I’ve created a downloadable Google spreadsheet (go to File > Download to grab a copy) that you can use as a worksheet to create your own permanent rivalry system that’ll be sure to enrage everyone who sees it. Hang with me here for a bit before you dive in, though.

Required Rivalries

The SEC, more than any other conference, has a lot of historical rivalries that the league has gone to great lengths to protect in the several scheduling incarnations since 1992 expansion. It will be importing some more by adding Texas and Oklahoma. Basically if a rivalry goes back a century and also has a well-known name, it’s going to be preserved.

These rivalries are non-negotiable if you want to have your system look serious. I mean, if you want to give Alabama the combo of Georgia, LSU, and Oklahoma out of spite, well, I can’t stop you. But it will mean that your system won’t be good for much beyond trolling.

On the Google spreadsheet, I’ve put those series in red to emphasize their importance to the conference. Any system like these will 100% preserve all of these series as permanent rivalries. Here is what we have so far:

Team Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Alabama Auburn Tennessee  
Auburn Alabama Georgia  
Florida Georgia    
Georgia Auburn Florida  
Miss Miss St.    
Miss St. Miss    
Oklahoma Texas    
South Carolina      
Tennessee Alabama    
Texas Oklahoma Texas A&M  
Texas A&M Texas    

There are some notable omissions. Florida-Tennessee isn’t on here, mainly because it’s not historical in the way the rest of these are. The Gators and Vols seldom played each other before ’92. Tennessee-Vanderbilt also isn’t on here despite it being one of the few in-state series the league has. Its one-sided nature means it’s not hallowed like the above rivalries are.

Nice To Have Rivalries

Here we’re delving into the subjective, so I’m sure you’ll disagree about something from here on out. That’s fine. That’s the point.

Florida-Tennessee belongs here, as plenty of fans really do care on both sides. If the Volunteers started winning more than once a decade again, it could easily heat right back up to what it once was. Tennessee-Vanderbilt probably would also go in this bucket. It’s an in-state matchup, and having each of those happen annually would be nice. Plus if you’re giving UT both Bama and UF, they need someone like Vandy as their third.

It also would be nice to rekindle series from conferences past. One Big Eight series that could return is Missouri-Oklahoma. Some old Southwest Conference series can come back with Arkansas playing Texas and Texas A&M again.

LSU is in a tough spot because the Tigers’ natural SEC rival was Tulane, which left the conference in 1965. It has long running series with the two Mississippi schools though, and they could reasonably go here. The Magnolia Bowl between LSU and Ole Miss would take precedence over the MSU series, which lacks a punchy name and has seen the Tigers win two-thirds of the games.

Finally, there have been a couple of series since more recent expansions that actually have caught on. The biggest success probably is LSU-Texas A&M, which has had some classic games. The Arkansas-Missouri “Battle Line Rivalry” felt forced at first, but five of its eight games have been one-score finishes. The SEC seems to like what it’s made there.

The trick is that to do both of those plus all of the SWC games, you lose the LSU-Arkansas series. That one has frequently been wacky and wild, and it has both a name (Battle for the Golden Boot) and a trophy (the titular golden boot).

Yeah, from here, there are hard choices. After all, everyone gets to argue about it because there isn’t one obvious choice.


A common tiebreaker you see in these sorts of arguments is an appeal to history. Don’t want to give LSU both Mississippi schools? Well, the Tigers have played both of them more than 100 times each.

Here are all of the series within the upcoming 16-team SEC that have at least 90 past meetings according to Chris Stassen’s database.

Team 1 Team 2 Total Games Played
Auburn Georgia 118
Miss Miss St. 114
LSU Miss St. 112
Tennessee Vanderbilt 111
Texas Texas A&M 111
Oklahoma Texas 107
Kentucky Tennessee 105
LSU Miss 105
Tennessee Kentucky 105
Alabama Miss St. 104
Alabama Tennessee 103
Florida Georgia 100
Missouri Oklahoma 96
Auburn Miss St. 95
Miss Vanderbilt 93
Kentucky Vanderbilt 91

You might want not want to give Tennessee both Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but not doing so would mean ending the annual nature of one of either the four or seven most-played series in the conference.

There are other history appeals that don’t go quite this far back. Want to chuck the Arkansas-TAMU game to preserve the golden boot? The Aggies are the team the Razorbacks have played the most in their history. South Carolina has naturally played Clemson the most in its history, but Georgia is No. 2.

For your reference, I’ve put the 90+ games played table in to the Google spreadsheet.

Closing Remarks

The advantage of the 3-6-6 model is that the stakes are much lower than in the past when it comes to trying to play important games frequently.

Florida-Auburn used to be one of the conference’s classic series. The annual nature of UF-AU had to end when the SEC went from two to one permanent cross-division rivalries because Auburn-Georgia took precedent. But then the 14-team schedule came, and Florida has faced Auburn just once since A&M and Mizzou joined. A once-great series went from occasional to effectively dead.

In a 3-6-6, Florida-Auburn won’t be annual either. The Iron Bowl and Auburn-Georgia are among the required series, and even the Rollest of Tide fans would acknowledge that it’d be unfair to give the Tigers an annual slate of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. However in a 3-6-6, the Gators and Tigers would play twice per four years instead of twice per dozen. That’s not annual, but it’s so much better than what we have now.

Not having divisions does raise the possibility of a three-way tie at the top of the standings where they’re all 1-1 against each other, or worse, where none of the teams has played the other. There’s no way to resolve that and make everyone happy, but the playoff makes it less of an issue. Nick Saban has already won two national titles without going to Atlanta — one in the BCS days, which was even harder to pull off than now — and the proposed 12-team playoff system would make it even less of a problem. Sure, it’s still a great thing to be able to call yourself SEC champ regardless of the national title, but if the team that’s left out of Atlanta can still end up in the Playoff, it softens the blow.

I always thought that the extremely long rotation system was a bad idea, and the reality of just how bad it is seems to have finally sunk in. A 3-6-6 is my favorite way to solve the problem, and now you can make your own such system.

I, of course, made my own, and I’m sure something in it will infuriate you. That’s why the spreadsheet exists. If you don’t like mine, go design a better one.

Team Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Alabama Auburn Tennessee Miss St.
Arkansas Missouri Texas Texas A&M
Auburn Alabama Georgia Vanderbilt
Florida Georgia Tennessee South Carolina
Georgia Auburn Florida South Carolina
Kentucky South Carolina Miss St. Missouri
LSU Miss Texas A&M Oklahoma
Miss Miss St. LSU Vanderbilt
Miss St. Miss Alabama Kentucky
Missouri Arkansas Oklahoma Kentucky
Oklahoma Texas Missouri LSU
South Carolina Georgia Kentucky Florida
Tennessee Alabama Vanderbilt Florida
Texas Oklahoma Texas A&M Arkansas
Texas A&M Texas Arkansas LSU
Vanderbilt Tennessee Miss Auburn
David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2