Posted by Jerry Hinnen
With Missouri locked into the Big 12 for another year, the SEC is in turn all-but-locked into a 13-team schedule for the 2012 football season. But as the league is finding out, scheduling with unbalanced divisions is easier said than done.
Larry Templeton, chair of the conference's "transition committee" for Texas A&M's move to the SEC, told the Birmingham News Friday that the league is considering three "conceptual scheduling options" for a 13-team slate. The "least disruptive" plan would be the have the incoming Aggies play four teams from the West and four teams from the East.
The other options, Templeton said, are for the SEC to play the NCAA-mandated intra-division round-robins -- with West teams playing six divisional games and East teams five -- or to simply assign the Aggies eight games regardless of divisional affiliation.
There's a major issue with the divisional round-robin plan, though. "I'm not prepared to say we wouldn't do that," Templeton said. "But mathematically, I don't think it can be done." By which he means that it can't--in a 13-team conference, it's mathematically impossible for every team in a seven-team division to play all other divisional opponents in an eight-game schedule.
The 13-team MAC has worked around this problem by having some members of its seven-team division only play five divisional games, a move that has required an NCAA waiver from the bylaw demanding a round-robin.
Thanks to the math and the "least disruptive" nature of the 4-4 split for Texas A&M, the SEC will likely require that same waiver in the near future. Why would that split be so much less disruptive? Templeton declines to spell it out for the News, but as explained in this blog post at Vanderbilt blog Anchor of Gold, that's the plan which allows the SEC to complete all of the cross-divisional home-and-home rotations that began this year.
For instance, this week Florida travels to Auburn and South Carolina visits Mississippi State. By assigning the Aggies four West games and four East games (and canceling the new cross-divisional rotations scheduled to start in 2012) the SEC would maintain enough flexibility to keep the return trips like Auburn's to Gainesville and Mississippi State's to Columbia intact.
Per Anchor of Gold, that plan would also necessitate A&M hosting all of their East games and going on the road for all of their West games. Assuming the SEC would limit their travel costs as much as possible (and not send them to Auburn or Alabama, the two most distant West campuses), A&M's initial SEC schedule would look something like: at Arkansas, at LSU, at Ole Miss, at Mississippi State, vs Georgia, vs. South Carolina, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Florida.
That schedule would be so different from the rest of the West's, there's no question it would damage the division's competitive balance--and cause more than a few complaints if/when it affected which team won the division's eventual championship. But because of the importance of those cross-divisional return games (and the fairness of completing the rotations), it remains the "least disruptive" scheduling path for the SEC ... and the one it's most likely to pursue.