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Tag:Third Saturday in October
Posted on: March 4, 2012 7:23 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 11:32 am
 

S. Carolina president: cross-division games a go

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The official line from the SEC is that nothing happened in last week's conference scheduling meetings, and that the league is still considering all available options as it tries to solve its 14-teams-in-an-eight-game-slate schedule dilemma.

But South Carolina president Harris Pastides wandered well away from that line Saturday, telling The State newspaper and other outlets that the league had agreed to continue with permanent cross-division rivalry games--and that he will cast his vote for his Gamecocks to break off their 19-year arrangement with Arkansas.

According to Pastides, the rest of the SEC's athletic directors and presidents were committed to finalizing the new cross-divisional games when he elected to abstain, saying it was too soon for him to commit to South Carolina adopting a new annual series with Texas A&M. The Gamecocks' former West division partners, the Razorbacks, would pick up more geographically-friendly Missouri.

“I said, ‘Hold on a second. That’s a big decision, and I’d like to hear what the fans think about that,’" Pastides said. "They were kind of motivated to get it done and move on, and I said, ‘I think it’s premature. I need to go back to Columbia and see what people think about that.’ ”

According to State reporter Andy Shain, Mike Slive's response to Pastides's pronouncement was "Well good for him."

"Nothing is set yet," Slive emphasized.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity echoed Pastides' comments in a discussion with the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. McGarity had previously said his Bulldogs' rivalry with Auburn -- as its nickname goes, the "Deep South's Oldest" -- could be in danger, but sounded much more positive Sunday.  

"The tone of the conversations that everyone had sort of gave the impression that everyone had a sense, at least the majority had a sense, of liking the rivalry game with an opponent from the opposite division," McGarity said. "The tone led us to believe that this has a good opportunity of moving forward." 

Pastides' method for discovering what "people think about that" in Columbia was to ask the State to poll readers on their website about the possibility of replacing the Razorbacks with the Aggies. Some 76 percent of respondents voted in favor of starting the new series with A&M.

That landslide was likely made possible by the Hogs' rampant recent success against the Gamecocks, Arkansas having won three in a row and five of the last six in the series. The Gamecocks' much tougher draw out of the SEC West (Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State to Georgia's Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss) was blamed by many -- and not without reason -- for the Bulldogs winning the 2011 East's trip to Atlanta despite the Gamecocks' win over the Dawgs in Athens.

“We have great respect for Arkansas, but I think it’s fair to say our fans never developed the same kind of passionate rivalry about playing Arkansas that maybe some other university did playing their Western Division rivalry,” Pastides said, confirming that he would vote in accordance with the fans' wishes.

“I respect the fans," he said. "Fans are not often consulted on important decisions and ultimately administrators come and go and coaches come and go and athletic directors come and go and fans stay.”

According to Pastides, the final vote of the presidents rubber-stamping the new cross-divisional arrangements will come next week, following the SEC men's basketball tournament.

The proposal isn't in the clear just yet; Pastides himself admits "it's not a done deal," and he happens to be the same president who claimed the SEC had agreed to a nine-game schedule for 2012 last November. A permanent cross-division rival paired with an eight-game schedule would also result in teams playing other cross-divisional opponents only twice in 12 years.

So the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" and the "Third Saturday in October" aren't out of the woods yet. But they do, at least, seem safer than they were before last week's meetings--where the SEC may have made far more ground on the scheduling issue than they've let on.

Shain HT: Get the Picture. 

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 5:45 pm
 

The SEC schedule paradox: what are the options?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Attention Birmingham residents: don't be surprised if you look in the "help wanted" section of your local Craigslist this weekend and find an ad from a user named "NoJiveSlive6nCounting" seeking "experienced cat-herder, must be able to wrangle up to 14 strong-willed athletic direc ... er, cats, with 14 differing agendas into moving in the same direction. Happily. Or at least, not angrily."

If you do, you can bet it's a response to this week's meeting of SEC athletic directors, where efforts to begin hammering out a football schedule for 2013 -- and, more importantly, a planned rotation for the seasons beyond -- seemed to have gone just an inch or two past nowhere. Reading the comments of those A.D.'s both during and after the meetings, it's easy to see why; not only is every SEC school bringing its own aims and ideas to the table, but they can't even agree on what they think they agree on. Just ask LSU and Florida, who are both willing to give up their annual cross-division rivalry or, in fact, aren't, depending on who you ask.

Of course, anyone who wasn't expecting these kinds of difficulties as soon as Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league wasn't paying attention. As we've repeated ad nauseum in this space, what the SEC wants -- preserved cross-divisional rivalries, semi-regular rotations for other East-West matchups, a divisional round-robin -- and the number of league games in which it wants them -- i.e., eight -- is flatly impossible, the scheduling equivalent of dividing by zero. Some kind of compromise somewhere in that tangled thicket of demands is inevitable.

But which compromise makes the most sense? Let's break down the SEC's options:

1. A NINE-GAME SCHEDULE

Pros: The simplest solution would give the conference room to preserve one annual cross-division game per team (saving the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry and Third Saturday in October), two slots for rotating cross-division opponents (shortening the gap between home-and-homes to four years), and still fit in the NCAA-mandated six-game intra-divisional round-robin. There's little doubt the league's television partners would vastly prefer another round of conference contests to a snoozer over yet another faceless Sun Belt punching bag.

Cons: They are many, the biggest one being that half the league would be giving up the cash bonanza of a guaranteed home game each year; for teams committed to a nonconference rivalry that requires a biannual road game (South Carolina with Clemson, Georgia with Georgia Tech, etc.) that loss will be particularly tough to swallow. There's also the increased difficulty of bottom-rung teams scheduling their way to a bowl berth; the inevitable loss of one-off nonconference series like LSU's with West Virginia; the inherent unfairness of half the league getting five home games and half just four ... all in all, it's understandable why the league would prefer to stick at eight if at all possible.

2. KEEP SELECTED CROSS-DIVISIONAL RIVALRIES

Pros: In other words, let Georgia play Auburn and Alabama play Tennessee (and maybe LSU and Florida? Arkansas and Missouri?) on an annual basis while everyone else rotates their cross-division opponents. The rivalries that matter are preserved while teams without such rivalries maintain scheduling flexibility.

Cons: For the teams with permanent cross-division rivals and just one rotating cross-division slot, match-ups with the rest of the opposite division will be few and far between--just one home-and-home over 12 years. Will teams in the West who want to recruit Georgia be happy with one trip to Athens every dozen seasons? Will East teams that struggle to fill their stadiums like Vanderbilt or Kentucky be happy with one visit from the Crimson Tide every 12 years? Will traditional rivals Auburn and Florida live with almost never playing each other again? This compromise is better than assigning every team a permanent cross-divisional rival, but it still has major problems.

3. PLAY ONLY FIVE INTRA-DIVISIONAL GAMES

Pros: As discussed by Mississippi State A.D. Scott Stricklin here, this would require an NCAA waiver or repeal of the current rule requiring conferences to stage intra-divisional round-robins to hold a title game (and such a waiver was granted to the MAC, albeit when that league had 13 teams and needed it to make an eight-game schedule work). But it would free up one key slot for a cross-divisional game--and it's hard to think of a team in the league that wouldn't take someone in the opposite division over someone in their own. League regularly dealt with tiebreaks between teams that hadn't played head-to-head back in the pre-divisional days.

Cons: Just because they dealt with them doesn't mean awkward tiebreaks are somehow a good thing; ask the Big 12 about its 2008 season sometime. And it may all be moot anyway--the NCAA may not be inclined to grant the waiver in the first place.

4. REALIGN DIVISIONS

Pros: If Auburn/Georgia and Tennessee/Alabama need to play every year, why not just lump them all into the same division and make the issue of cross-division rivalries irrelevant? You'd have to ignore geography entirely where South Carolina was concerned, but a "Rivalry" division of Tigers, Bulldogs, Volunteers, Crimson Tide, Gators, Commodores, and Wildcats -- with LSU, A&M, Missouri, Arkansas, the Mississippi schools, and the Gamecocks in the "Other" division -- would preserve almost every classic SEC series. And if you don't like that arrangement, there's always other options.

Cons: Hoo boy, the Gamecocks would not be happy with having their Georgia series dissolved in the above scenario. And even if you convince them, any scenario which lumps both Alabama schools in with the traditional East powers is going to be far too competitively weighted towards that division--the West could have just one team (LSU) that had won the league since 1963. 

5. ELIMINATE DIVISIONS ENTIRELY

ProsMore than one SEC fan has proposed simply doing away with the divisional setup -- allowing teams to schedule as many annual rivals or rotated games as they wish -- and having the top two teams in the standings play off in the league championship game. No other suggestion in this list would make scheduling easier.

Cons: That the NCAA has mandated divisions for a championship game since the game's inception is a hurdle just a shade smaller than the Empire State Building, and of course the money-tree that is the SEC Championship Game is going to go away when Razorbacks fly. Then there's the tiebreaking issues, the regressive feel of reverting to the pre-1992 standings table ... this isn't happening.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Short of pitching two schools overboard, which will happen immediately after the league gives up its championship game to help it live a life of "monastic conferencehood, in which championships are awarded for each team's level of enlightenment," nope.

SO WHAT SHOULD THE LEAGUE DO?

Simple: go to nine games. For the likes of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky, this means just two nonconference "paycheck" breathers and some massaging of the road/home split to make sure each team doesn't have too many games away from home in one season.

But guess what? The Bulldogs only played two paycheck games last season, and they ended up all right. LSU played only six true home games last year, only two of them vs. tomato can opposition, and their world somehow continued to spin as well. We're not sure there's a fan in the league that wouldn't be willing to trade two seasons' worth of exhibitions against Cupcake State for one ticket vs. legitimate SEC opposition.

BUT WHAT WILL THEY DO?

Despite the noises coming from Georgia's Greg McGarity, we expect -- and fervently hope -- that even a money-grab as naked as this round of SEC expansion has its limits, and that those limits stop outside the cancellation of Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee. For now, expect the league to opt for option No. 2, where the schools who want permanent cross-division rivalries get them and those that don't don't. And in the long run? When the demands of television viewers and high price of paying off bodybags makes that extra home game more trouble than it's worth, the ninth game will make it debut. 

Unfortunately, there's going to be a lot of hand-wringing, a lot of scary-sounding statements, and a lot of Mike Slive cat-herding before we get to that or any compromise. Buckle in, SEC, fans.

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Posted on: October 20, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 1:12 pm
 

Vol AD: 'Feel strongly we can keep' Tide rivalry

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Thursday is reportedly the day Missouri begins the process of applying for membership in the SEC, an application that virtually no one expects to be rejected--even if the last we heard from the Tigers' conference-of-choice, Mizzou didn't yet have the nine positive votes to join.

The major sticking point for alleged Mizzou-opponent Alabama? The Crimson Tide's cherished "Third Saturday in October" rivalry with Tennessee, which could become a non-annual game if Missouri is added to the (geographically sensible) West division. And with former Alabama athletic staffer Dave Hart now the AD in Knoxville, the Tigers won't get the Volunteers' support, either, if their admission puts the Third Saturday in jeopardy. 

Though Hart doesn't spell that out specifically, it doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines in his Thursday interview with the Birmingham News to see that's the case:

Hart arrived from Alabama as Tennessee's new AD knowing the obvious: Alabama and Tennessee must continue playing football every year.

"The history that rivalry has produced is unparalleled in my mind," Hart said. "I know [Tide AD] Mal [Moore] feels exactly as I do. I feel strongly we can keep it and hope it can go back to the Third Saturday of October where it belongs. It would be a nice cherry on the top if all that would unfold."

By which Hart means returning the game to its rightful place on the calendar on the actual third Saturday in October; the game is currently played on that exact date occasionally (and falls on the fourth Saturday this season).

But first and foremost, the game has to be played at all. If Missouri is added to the West division, one current West team will have to move to the East--and the far-and-away most logical candidate is Auburn, whose president has already stated publicly his Tigers would be happy to make the switch. But that would put Alabama in the position of having both their major annual rivals in the opposite division, with only of those rivalries "protected" as an annual game.

As the News's Jon Solomon points out, the SEC has two options for preserving Vols-Tide: either assign Missouri to the East and keep Auburn in the West (keeping the Vols as the Tide's lone cross-divisional rival), or expand the SEC schedule to nine games and give each team an extra cross-division rival.

Since the latter means unbalanced home-away schedules and a maximum seven home games every other year, don't expect it to get much in the way of support (even if it works for the Pac-12, Big 12, etc.). At this point, the most sensible approach for including Mizzou seems to be to toss the Tigers in with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, as little geographical sense as that makes.

Because as Hart's comments illustrate, adding the Tigers to the West means push would have to come to shove somewhere--and that somewhere might be Missouri not getting added to the SEC at all.

Posted on: October 6, 2011 10:19 am
 

Report: Not enough SEC votes to add Missouri yet

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

According to a report from the Birmingham News, Missouri may not have the support needed to join the SEC after all.

The News's Jon Solomon reported Thursday morning that the "majority" of conference presidents and ADs would support the Tigers' application to become the league's 14th team, but that that majority "falls just short of the nine votes required" to give Missouri final approval.

According to Solomon's sources, those opposed to Missouri's membership have two points of contention. The first is that the SEC can simply "do better" than the Tigers. The other is that adding a team to the SEC West rather than East would disrupt the league's scheduling and rivalries.

The debate has reportedly led to a split between Auburn and Alabama, with the Crimson Tide opposed to Missouri's application and their in-state rivals in favor. Adding Missouri would almost certainly shift Auburn to the East division, restoring the Tigers' traditional annual rivalries with Tennessee and Florida, but potentially scuttling the Tide's yearly "Third Saturday in October" grudge match with the Volunteers. (With only one annual "cross-division" game on the schedule, Alabama couldn't play both Tennessee and Auburn with both in the East, at least not without a nine-game conference schedule.)

As noted by Solomon, Missouri's application won't be helped by an anonymous official telling the Associated Press Wednesday that the SEC would be the Tigers' second choice after the Big Ten. The public admission that Missouri might look elsewhere if the Big Ten asked them to surely won't sit well with a league that -- surely -- can find other partners that would be 100 percent committed.

So a move that looked like all but certain when the Mizzou Board of Curators voted to explore their options Tuesday now has another clear, visible hurdle in front of it. (At minimum, the SEC's plans for a 13-team 2012 season look that much closer to being set in stone.) The guess here remains that in the end, the allure of Missouri's Kansas City/St. Louis television markets will be too much for Mike Slive and the SEC to ignore (especially with the league angling for a new TV contract), and that the SEC's stability and overflowing coffers will be too much for even the Big Ten-focused Missouri officials to turn down.

But at the very least, Mizzou-to-the-SEC appears to be a deal that isn't done just yet.

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