It’s no secret I don’t like the way events are shaping up in college football these days. In a sport steeped in tradition, wholesale changes are being implemented at such rapid speed–seemingly with no direction–that I feel it shakes the very foundation of the game in general, and the core of the conferences in particular. Disruption in conference membership and alignment threaten to change the very identity of certain teams. Texas A&M and Missouri ended 100+year series with Texas and Kansas for the foreseeable future last year by deciding to bolt for the SEC. While that may have been the best course of action for those teams trying to get into our conference, what’s the best plan of action for the teams that are historic members?
With the SEC spring meetings underway in Destin, one of the first issues to be decided was keeping the permanent cross-divisional opponent in the current 8-game schedule for the time being, with six divisional games and paring the rotators down to one per season. With that commitment, it maintains important cross-divisional historic rivalries like Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, and LSU-Florida. But for how long? With rising pressure on the conferences to further expand and to position themselves best for national title runs, long-standing rivalries will soon take a back seat to the larger appeal of dollars and crowns.
The cracks in the facade of our southern version of the sport with an emphasis on the long-standing rivalries are already showing. LSU openly declared their disinterest in continuing the Florida series annually, perhaps in a nod to the superior competition seen in the SEC west the past decade or so. Granted, they have only played the Gators fifty-something times over the years, not even half the totals chalked up by the others. What bothers me is that with the Bayou Bengals and the Gators and the other two pairs, you have the exact top half of the former 12-team conference, which would ordinarily buy you some clout. It’s not like Vandy, Kentucky, and State were bitching about continuing their rivalries.
Now with the SEC schools further voting last week unanimously to endorse the top four ranked teams in a future playoff as opposed to conference champions, it is now clear that the conference is positioning itself to be the beneficiary of having multiple teams play for the national title instead of being just limited to one. Why is that important? Because winning a SEC title will now be pushed to a distant second in terms of goals at the start of a season, and maintaining historic rivals will likely be the first casualty as every power team attempts to manipulate their schedule to eek out an advantage.
Cross-divisional annual rivals are doomed eventually on the current 8-game conference schedule. If the SEC expands further to 16 or more teams, it is especially so unless they come up with a new definition of the word division. Perhaps some hybrid variety of divisions could preserve these rivalries, or even better, mega-conferences of the not to distant future could more easily petition the NCAA to change the rules concerning conference championship games. Or just ditch the NCAA altogether.
Is there no school in the SEC who will dissent to the building consensus of group think that seems to infect this current cadre meeting in Destin? While you may think that the conference has the fans’ backs in terms of preserving the traditions most important to us, I think that’s not necessarily true. While every political party member thinks there’s some offshoot of their base known as the establishment that fends solely for it’s own selfish whims while in Washington, I wonder myself if all the success the SEC has had with national titles the last six years has created a bureaucratic monster that now is unilaterally seeking to accomplish only one goal: more national titles. Makes you wonder.
As fans of the sport and our respective teams, we must come together to insure the school presidents and conference cronies haven’t forgotten that it is us who attends the games and pays the bills and calls the shots in college football. We can’t let them take this away from us. For Auburn, the season’s just not hardly worth playing if the Georgia Bulldogs aren’t on the schedule. Same with the Alabama and Tennessee game for them.
We need to make our voices heard in the halls and ivory towers on the campuses. I want to hear Auburn president Jay Gogue declare that he will do everything in his power, including resigning in protest, to preserve the Georgia game, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. I want to hear UGA counterpart Michael Adams declare the same on behalf of the Bulldogs. We can’t let them decide this issue without a fight, and I clearly think these series are on the chopping block. Online petition? Facebook page, anyone?