Somewhat surprisingly, an idea on determining the East and West division champions of the SEC by counting only divisional games, first pushed by Steve Spurrier and later supported by Les Miles, has seemingly gained some level of traction and could at least be up for discussion at the conference meetings later this month in Florida.
Just don’t hold your breath for the best head coach in college football to throw his support behind such a proposal.
Ahead of a Crimson Caravan stop Tuesday, Nick Saban was asked about an idea that, in essence, would relegate cross-division games to a level of importance akin to non-conference games. While acknowledging the thinking that’s behind it, the Alabama head coach intimated that minimizing the importance of cross-divisional games could end up damaging the conference in the long run.
“I just think that’s one of those things that’s not always going to be controlled,” Saban said. “It’s not manipulated with who you play. We have a rotation, we have to go through it.
“I think the other division games you play on the other side are important to our fans and there’s a lot of tradition involved in some of those games. I think if you minimize the importance of those games, that wouldn’t be in the best interest of our league.”
Division-only games already do play a role in deciding divisional champions, albeit only in the case of a tie. In a two-way tie, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, obviously, but the second is the two team’s record in divisional play. Lather, rinse, repeat when it comes to a three-team tiebreaker.
The combination of new members Missouri and Texas A&M coming into the conference this year plus the West’s domination over the East the past few years has led to this division-only push by two of the SEC’s most recognizable coaches, although it’s likely the latter that’s led to the chatter from the Ol’ Ball Coach. As Saban may have hinted at when he said “that’s one of the things that’s not always going to be controlled”, however, these things run in cycles.
The record bear out the West’s dominance the past three years, with the East going just 15-39 in non-division games. The three years prior to that? The East owned a 39-33 advantage over the West from 2006-08. From 2002-04, it was 30 wins for West schools, 24 wins for schools from the East.
Again, cycles, although this current one is a definite low point for the East relative to others in recent years.
Would Spurrier’s proposal, though, really make a difference as to who in the past would’ve represented the East and West in the SEC championship game? Not much research needs to be undertaken to see that it would’ve just this past year, and guess which school that would’ve benefited?
In 2011, Georgia won the East at 7-1 while South Carolina, which beat the Bulldogs the second week of the season, finished behind UGA at 6-2. Take out the three games against the West, however — UGA was 3-0 (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn) while USC was 1-2 (losses to Auburn and Arkansas, win over Mississippi State) — the former would’ve been 4-1 and the latter 5-0. In other words, the Gamecocks, not the Bulldogs, would’ve
served as the sacrificial lamb faced LSU in the SEC title game last December.
I love the OBC as much as anyone, but c’mon. Do what’s best for the conference, not what would’ve been best for your school a year ago. And, sorry coach, turning non-divisional games into the equivalent of non-conference games is not, as Saban said, what’s best for the SEC.
Having games against Florida Atlantic, Alabama-Birmingham, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe carry the same level of importance in the SEC standings as games against Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU? That’s an indefensible — and laughable — proposition. Or, as commissioner Mike Slive put it last month…
“We certainly can discuss it, but an SEC football game is an SEC football game,” Slive said. “Sitting here first blush without a lot of thought, it would be very hard to decide some games are more valuable than other games.”