Hobbs: Current SEC football scheduling needs repair

By By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Hardcore LSU conspiracy theorists need to proceed with caution here today, or perhaps just go work the crossword puzzle.

It’s not going to be pretty.

You’re not going to like it.

Me, I don’t believe an actual conspiracy exists, even though I’m well aware the Southeastern Conference office is still located

in Birmingham.

But take a deep breath anyway.

Get in your happy place.

Think peaceful thoughts.

Make sure you’re sitting down.

Ready?

OK, as you’re probably aware, in the now-expanded SEC football schedule, each team plays the other six members of its own

division and gets assigned two from the other division.

The latter is where the variable comes in.

For a random, fun example, let’s compare the cases of LSU and Alabama, which as often as not seem to determine the SEC West

winner.

LSU’s two opponents from the East this year will be Florida (home) and Georgia (away) — which last year combined for a 14-2

conference record.

Alabama’s two opponents from the East this year will be Kentucky and Tennessee — which last year combined for a 1-15 conference

record (fortunately for the Vols, they did play each other).

Oh, so that’s how Nick Saban’s famed “process” works.

No, I’m willing to call it a coincidence.

But it also seems to be a trend.

Last year, LSU’s two East opponents, Florida and South Carolina, went 13-3. Alabama got Tennessee and Missouri, which went

3-13.

Last year doesn’t always predict for this year, admittedly, but it’s as good of a starting spot as any.

Florida and Georgia don’t appear to be backing up any, and it doesn’t look like Tennessee and Kentucky are ready to storm

the gates anytime soon.

Of the West teams, only Arkansas’ upcoming schedule remotely compares to LSU’s — the Hogs’ East opponents, Florida and South

Carolina, went 13-3 last season. Nobody else’s East duo was better than .500 last year.

But no team comes close to the 1-15 East pillow fight Alabama will have to deal with. Mississippi State has the projected

next easiest, Kentucky and South Carolina, which went 6-10.

More?

Had the expansion not occurred, LSU’s other East opponent last year was going to be Kentucky. So, in effect, the Tigers replaced

the winless Wildcats with newcomer Texas A&M.

Alabama, had things not changed, was set to add Georgia to its schedule. Instead, it got 2-6 Missouri.

Again, I’m not suggesting anything more than bad luck for LSU and some incredibly good scheduling fortune for Alabama.

Last year and this upcoming season is the result of what the SEC calls a “bridge” schedule.

Translation: “The best we can come up with until we figure out what we really want to do on, like, a permanent basis and, yes, we’re still

working on it.”

For instance, there is not yet a clue what the 2014 schedule will look like.

In reality, the SEC has been hammering on a permanent rotation, night and day, for going-on two years now. Former Mississippi

State athletic director Larry Templeton has turned it into a full-time job, along with all 14 current athletic directors,

a very powerful computer and some other outside consultants.

Apparently, they have not come close to cracking the code for anything more than a makeshift schedule for the next year.

I don’t think it was planned to paint that “bridge” crimson all the way to Atlanta.

All I’m suggesting, again, is that in its haste to expand, the SEC may have bitten off more than it can schedule.

I told you it was a bad idea when they did it.

Before expansion, each team played five division games and three from the other. Now it’s six and two.

You’ll have to consult your local mathematician for the specifics.

But when you go from playing half of

the other division each year to playing just 29 percent of them (2 of

7), it would make

sense that you set up yourself for the kind of mile-wide

discrepancies evident in the Alabama and LSU schedules for this year.

I don’t know what the solution is.

The SEC isn’t going to admit it made a mistake by getting too big for its britches and kick Texas A&M and Missouri back out

of the conference.

Maybe they could just add two teams to each division, let the divisions ignore each in the regular season while admitting

they are actually two separate conferences and see you in Atlanta for the championship.

Probably not.

But I would have two suggestions to at least alleviate the scheduling Rubik’s Cube.

The teams have traditionally had one permanent opponent from the other division.

The conference office doesn’t say whether those relationships are still in effect or not, but not one of them has been torn

asunder through two seasons of bridge scheduling.

The LSU-Florida game, for instance, has been good for the SEC, often good — despite their occasional whining about it — for

both teams.

But you can’t have everything, and, sad to say, the permanent opponents need to be dropped, just to open up more wiggle room

on the schedule.

Then you must ignore the coaches’ innate fears of cannibalism and increase the conference to schedule to nine games.

That would least allow three games against the other division, theoretically lessening the chance for the huge inequities

on display this year.

As for the other sports, well,

basketball and baseball have already gerrymandered post-season

tournaments that are indecipherable.

•••

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

Chart

Each SEC team plays two teams from the other division. Following is each team’s two opponents for this season and their combined record last year:

WEST

• LSU (Georgia and Florida, 14-2)

• Arkansas (Florida and South Carolina, 13-3)

• Auburn (Tennessee and Georgia, 8-8)

• Ole Miss (Vanderbilt and Missouri, 7-9)

• Texas A&M (Vanderbilt and Missouri, 7-9)

• Mississippi State (Kentucky and South Carolina, 6-10)

• Alabama (Kentucky and Tennessee, 1-15)

EAST

• Kentucky (Alabama and Mississippi State, 11-5)

• Missouri (Ole Miss and Texas A&M, 9-7)

• Vanderbilt (Ole Miss and Texas A&M, 9-7)

• Florida (Arkansas and LSU, 8-8)

• Tennessee (Alabama and Auburn, 7-9)

• Georgia (LSU and Auburn, 6-10)

• South Carolina (Arkansas and Mississippi State, 6-10)