Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn and athletic director Jay Jacobs spent this week in Destin, Fla., at the SEC's annual spring meetings. The hot topic at the meetings centered on the future scheduling format in football.
A large majority of the coaches would like to stay at an eight-game conference schedule while Alabama head coach Nick Saban would like to go to nine. LSU head coach Les Miles made it loud and clear that he wanted to do away with permanent cross-division rivals. Ever dealt with kids bickering back and forth? Try multi-millionaire football coaches. “Welcome to my chair,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive joked to reporters (h/t David Mitchell, Anniston Star).
Allow me to make this a little simpler for you, Commissioner Slive. Move Auburn to the SEC Eastern Division.
A big reason why the majority of schools do not want to change the current scheduling format is because it would likely mean the end of two of the SEC's biggest rivalries: Auburn vs. Georgia and Alabama vs. Tennessee.
Currently the SEC uses a "6-1-1" scheduling format. Put simply, each team in each division plays every team within the division. Then, there is one rotating opponent from the opposite division as well as a permanent cross-division opponent. For example, in 2012, Vanderbilt was Auburn's rotating cross-division opponent while Georgia was the permanent cross-division opponent like it has been since 1992.
Moving Auburn to the Eastern Division would maintain "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" against the Bulldogs. It would also re-establish some of Auburn's historical rivalries it had prior to 1992 against Florida and Tennessee.
Unfortunately, this may mean that the Iron Bowl would only be played once per decade unless the two teams met in the SEC championship. Another option is that Alabama can drop Tennessee as its cross-division opponent, as Kevin Scarbinsky recently suggested, and make Auburn its cross-division opponent.
While the chance of losing the annual Iron Bowl would sting, there is a large portion of Alabama fans that believe playing Tennessee every year is more important than playing Auburn. Likewise, there are many Auburn faithful that say playing Georgia is more important than the Iron Bowl.
Jacobs understands the importance of the game (via Joel Erickson, AL.com):
Our Auburn-Georgia rivalry is a big thing. Particularly the proximity, the difference we've had with different coaches, administrators being at Georgia, being at Auburn, an Auburn graduate being at Georgia. We have to be real careful moving forward.
As does Georgia head coach Mark Richt (via Ryan Wood, Opelika-Auburn News):
The one thing I will say that I would vote on is to continue to have our rival game with Auburn. Does that involve an eight game, a nine game, I don’t know. If that goes away, then does eight games change in my mind compared to nine? I think one of the keys to this whole thing is if the rival games stand. If the rival games stand, I think you could change how people think about the big picture.
Can you imagine what kind of ratings and money the SEC would bring in if Auburn and Alabama met for the SEC championship? It would be bound to happen and it would make the Iron Bowl that much more meaningful.
The good thing is that Auburn's move would not only make sense logistically. It makes sense geographically as well.
Moving Auburn to the Eastern Division would mean that one school would have to move to the Western Division from the Eastern side. That school should be Missouri.
The Tigers geographic location in Columbia, Mo., pits them farther west than any SEC school other than Texas A&M and Arkansas. According to Scott Rabalais of The Advocate, Missouri and Arkansas are separated by just 309 miles.
A lot more money can go into a school's pocket (not that they need any more) with Auburn moving to the East. In 2013, Missouri's average SEC road trip will be 436.5 miles "as the crow flies." The Tigers' longest trip is 604 miles to Athens, Ga.
In 2012, Missouri's SEC road trips were even longer. The Tigers traveled an average of 672.75 miles per SEC road contest. The longest of which came against Florida. It is 857 miles between Columbia, Mo., and Gainesville, Fla., Missouri will have to make that trip every two years if it stays in the SEC East. Likewise, schools in the SEC East will not have to travel to Missouri every other year.
Here is what the SEC map looks like currently:
If Auburn moved to the East, it would look like this (East in green, West in red):
This isn't the first time that moving Auburn to the East has been suggested. When talks of Missouri joining the SEC began back in 2011, Auburn appeared to be more than willing to accommodate Missouri's entrance and move to the Eastern Division (via The Birmingham News):
Auburn President Jay Gogue said Sept. 8 he would not be bothered if Auburn moved to the SEC East to accommodate a 14-team conference. Gogue said a benefit for Auburn would be renewing annual games against old rivals Florida and Tennessee, and that Auburn would pick Alabama to be an annual cross-division partner.
However, Alabama couldn't let this happen without throwing a fit. Staying true to form, the Crimson Tide put a kink into the SEC's plans (via Jon Solomon, AL.com):
According to the sources, Alabama has two objectives: Keep its annual cross-division rivalry game against Tennessee, and not watch Auburn move to the East and possibly grow its recruiting presence in talent-rich Florida and Georgia.
Auburn already plays UGA every year as it is and recruits Georgia very well. The Tigers would make a trip every two years to Florida and that may help a little in recruiting the Sunshine State. But it's not likely there would be a significant bump in recruiting in Georgia and Florida for Auburn by moving to the East.
Auburn's move to the Eastern Division almost makes too much sense.
Commissioner Slive and the rest of the SEC can avoid a lot of headaches in scheduling by placing the Tigers in the Eastern Division in 2014.
Where they belong.
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