While talking about how dumb the Big 12's idea to have five-team divisions is, last week's Podcast Ain't Played Nobody proposed doing away with divisions entirely, for every conference.
The more we've thought about it, the more we've realized it's pretty much a perfect idea. We should get rid of divisions, and we should replace them with small groups of annual rivals.
Let's use the SEC as an example, since it has the most complicated issues at the moment. (It works well in the Big Ten too, and fixes those lopsided divisions.)
1. Every major SEC rivalry would be protected.
A couple rivalries complicate the SEC puzzle. Alabama has to play Tennessee every year; Auburn has to play Georgia every year. But those go across divisions. If you move Auburn to the East, Alabama can only play either Auburn or Tennessee every year, and that's how Revelation starts.
Currently, everyone has a cross-division rival, even though most pairs make little sense. We love to make fun of the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Khaki Bowl, and Florida-LSU is good because it gets weird, but this is a lot of fuss.
So, the core of the proposal: scrap divisions, and give everybody three guaranteed rivals.
|Arkansas||Missouri||Ole Miss||Texas A&M|
|LSU||Alabama||Ole Miss||Texas A&M|
|Mississippi State||Auburn||Kentucky||Ole Miss|
We tried to balance these competitively, retain games people care about and encourage some games that people could stand to care more about.
Most of this story's comment section will focus on snubbed rivalries, and that's fine. Georgia-Tennessee and Auburn-LSU are good (a lot of teams claim UT and LSU as rivals!) and Auburn-MSU is nothing special (Bama/UGA/LSU would be a brutal group for Auburn). But if you can find ways to annualize all the best games without goofing things up elsewhere, we're all ears. You see the big idea, though.
We considered protecting four rivals for each, but that would make for too many forced pairings.
Fortunately! We'd kind of retain every rivalry anyway, because ...
2. Every SEC team would play every other SEC team within every two years.
Under the current format, former rivals Auburn and Florida haven't played since 2011. People born on the day of that game will be in middle school the next time the Gators play at Jordan-Hare, in 2024.
Newer SEC addition Texas A&M hasn't played at Kentucky since 1953, and won't do so again until 20-damn-25.
Georgia went six straight years without facing Nick Saban in the regular season.
This is stretching the definition of a conference and revealing that the whole point of this is ... not competition and kinship. Many fans get one shot per decade at road trips to Baton Rouge or Athens. Most players and many coaches only get three years to make their marks, so entire careers come and go without rivals meeting.
Under our plan, every team would meet every one or two years, and no team would go more than four years without visiting every stadium.
Here's how this would look in 2016 and 2018 and so forth:
|Permanent opponents||Even years|
And here's 2017, 2019, etc.:
|Permanent opponents||Odd years|
3. These schedules are already really balanced.
Average strength of schedule, according to 10-year S&P+ national rankings:
|Average opponent ranking, odd schedule||Average opponent ranking, even schedule||Overall average opponent ranking|
The conference-wide average opponent every two years: No. 33.2.
Each team's two-year average SEC opponent would rank between No. 31 and No. 35 here. As an example of how tiny that range is: Last year, S&P+'s No. 30 Penn State and No. 35 Auburn both lost by a touchdown to No. 32 Georgia.
Tennessee and Texas A&M jump out as having slightly imbalanced even-and-odd schedules, according to the long-term numbers. Does that matter or nah?
4. Without divisions, the SEC Championship would pair the best two teams.
Only '90s kids remember when the SEC West trotted out division champs with glorious No. 16 poll rankings while a highly ranked East team missed the SEC Championship. These days, the East is the one polluting the Georgia Dome.
Imagine getting the 2011 Bama-LSU rematch out of the way before the BCS (hey, Oklahoma State!). South Carolina's rematch against Cam Newton's Auburn went poorly, but maybe Arkansas or LSU could've competed? In 1995, 10-1 Tennessee would've gotten one more shot at 11-0 Florida, instead of the Gators batting around No. 23 Arkansas.
Anyway, imagine the Kick Six turning a likely Alabama-Missouri into an immediate Iron Bowl rematch.
[What if three or more teams are totally tied for first? Playoff rankings tiebreaker, like some other conferences use. That's the smart business move, since you don't want your Playoff longshot taking a spot from your top teams.]
Last year, No. 2 Alabama repped the SEC West. Florida spilled in at No. 18 after scoring two points against Florida State. The Gators had no hope and made all onlookers sad.
The higher-ranked Ole Miss would've had a much better chance in December*, based on the Rebels having beaten Bama twice in a row in real life. But since only one West team can go, the title game suffered, as it does.
* Florida had a better record and beat Ole Miss in October with a different quarterback, because life is weird. But these teams all would've played fairer schedules in the better system, so Florida might not've had a better record. The point is ... you get it.