Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Everyone expected difficulties in scheduling an expanded SEC. But we're not sure many expected the kind of difficulties outlined by Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday--the sort that could bring an end to one of the conference's oldest and greatest rivalries.
According to McGarity, the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" between his Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers could be near the end if its 114-year run* as an annual series. When the SEC convenes at the end of February to map out its future schedules, it will have to decide whether or not to maintain the permanent cross-division game that has preserved the Auburn-Georgia meeting since the league's 1992 expansion.
With only two of the potential seven cross-divisional games constituting traditional rivalries (the "Third Saturday in October" between Alabama and Tennessee is also in jeopardy), McGarity says the leaguewide support for continuing those games may not be there.
“I think if you ask Alabama and Tennessee, like us and Auburn, we’d like to retain the games,” McGarity said. “But does that work? What do the other 10 schools think? Those four schools like having those games but there’s no other East-West match-up that has that piece of history to it. So I don’t where that fits in ...
“With 14 teams, not everybody will be happy. Some will have a problem with everything. But we’ll make decisions based on the best situation of the league.”
Further complicating the issue is that with six intra-divisional games and a permanent cross-division rival, an eight-game SEC schedule would see just one slot devoted to rotating cross-divisional opponents--meaning teams in the East would play their rotating opponents in the West just twice every 12 years. A nine-game schedule would alleviate many of these problems, but both McGarity and SEC officials say there is little interest within the league to add the extra conference game.
League officials could find a compromise--say, letting Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama continue with their cross-divisional partnerships while other schools rotate, or allowing those four schools to play their rivalry games as a nonconference matchup in years when they aren't scheduled to play within the SEC.
But those suggestions are entirely speculative. The bottom line is that in a 14-team league, there's simply no way to 1. play an eight-game schedule 2. maintain those cross-divisional rivalries 3. have other cross-divisional opponents play more often than a couple of times a decade. It doesn't work.
Which is why -- unless the league changes course on the nine-game scheduling issue -- it's going to continue to find itself wedged between the proverbial rock and a hard place. And unfortunately for Auburn and Georgia fans, the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry may well prove to be the cost of getting itself out.
*The game has been played every year since 1898 with the exception of three seasons during World Wars I and II.
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