Mullen advocates for greater diversity in scheduling

Florida and Alabama are tied for the most SEC Championship Game appearances with 13. The Crimson Tide have won the most SEC Championship Games with eight victories, while the Gators are second with seven.

Alabama and Florida are two of only three SEC teams to win at least three national championships since 1990.

The University of Alabama is the fourth-closest SEC school to UF’s campus in terms of miles.

Despite their shared history of football excellence and their close proximity to one another, Saturday’s game in the Swamp between the No. 11 Gators and the No. 1 Crimson Tide will be their first regular season meeting since 2014 and the first one in the Swamp since 2011.

Throughout his time as Florida’s head coach, Dan Mullen has stated his desire for the SEC to redo the way it does scheduling, and he did so again on Wednesday during his appearance on the SEC Coaches Teleconference.

As things stand now, the Gators play the other six East division teams, one permanent opponent from the West in LSU and one rotating West opponent every year. That means that, on average, the Gators will only face every other West team every six years and only once every dozen years at home.

Mullen is a proponent of reducing the number of permanent opponents to ensure that they face every other SEC team on a more regular basis.

“If we got rid of maybe the permanent games in the SEC, you would have more opportunities to play these games, which the fans love,” Mullen said. “The last time we had a rotating team come into the Swamp [with a full crowd] was two years ago, was the Auburn game and that was probably a similar type excitement. I think the league creating more of these games is really good for the fans, good for the players and good for the conference.

“I didn’t know the last time they were here was 2011. That seems like a long time between playing a conference team at home, a long time between games.”

Mullen may get his wish within the next couple of years. Texas and Oklahoma will join the league no later than 2025, which will force the SEC to rethink the number of conference games it plays, how each team’s opponents will be determined and possibly even how the league’s divisions are structured.

Mullen acknowledges that some people will be resistant to a drastic change in the scheduling process. After all, Florida-LSU, Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee are huge inter-division rivalry games that could go by the wayside, and rivalries are part of what make college football great.

But Mullen also pointed out that there were some uneasy people within the sport when the SEC split into divisions and played a conference championship game for the first time in 1992. That move turned out to be a tremendous success and a trendsetter within the sport.

He thinks abandoning some permanent matchups on the schedule could have a similar effect. He also thinks that the rivalries that will be formed or rekindled by greater scheduling diversity could outweigh the losses of a couple of permanent rivalry games.

“When the SEC went to divisions a long time ago, I feel like Florida-Auburn was one of the oldest rivalries in the South, and you just didn’t play that game anymore,” Mullen said. “They came here two years ago, and it was a huge game. Arkansas-Texas used to be a huge Southwest Conference rivalry, and that didn’t exist. They got to play last week, and it was a big game. The fact they don’t play every single year maybe makes it even a bigger game.

“I think it’d be really good for the league to have this happen more often. I think it’ll be exciting for the fans and all of that stuff. Over the last several years, rivalries have kind of come and gone, and ‘This has been a big rivalry,’ and ‘That’s been a big rivalry,’ and, all of a sudden, there’s conference realignment and all this stuff. I think it is really exciting, though, the more you get to play different teams within your league. I think the better it is for the fans, the better experience for the players.”

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.