DESTIN, Fla. — It all seemed set. With Missouri and Texas A&M set to join the Southeastern Conference, it appeared the 14-team league was primed to go to a 6-1-1 scheduling format for football, which called for six games against division opponents and one each against a permanent rival and rotating opponent.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Then came Wednesday’s second day of the SEC spring meetings. After the league’s athletic directors and football coaches discussed the issue — rather vigorously, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said — well, let’s just say it’s at least up for debate.
“I think most people thought the 6-1-1 was the direction things were going in,” Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said in the moments following the meeting. “But after visiting with our head football coaches and getting some other thoughts, I think they said ‘Look, maybe we ought to step back a bit and think about it.’ ”
At the heart of the issue, it seems, is the existence of permanent, cross-division rivalries. Slive had previously said his coaches were on-board with the concept. Some coaches, however, raised concerns about it.
Included in that group was LSU coach Les Miles, who has to face Florida every year because the two are designated cross-division rivals. This regularly pits two of the strongest teams in the SEC, when they could otherwise face potentially weaker opponents.
But Miles’ opinion on the matter (and he spoke out on it Wednesday) is in contrast to schools like Ole Miss, which enjoys its cross-division rivalry with Vanderbilt and would prefer not to sacrifice it.
“But I do understand why some are in favor of rotating teams more,” said new Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork, who worked under Alden at Missouri for several years. “They can see other teams more often.”
That said, a number of potential solutions were thrown out, including the unlikely scenario of shifting from an eight-game conference schedule to a nine-game schedule.
Bjork said that scenario would have the negative impact of increasing the difficulty of most team’s schedules, which are already thought to be hard enough in the super-competitive SEC.
“From a bowl-eligibility standpoint,” Bjork said, “eight games makes the most sense.”
Slive said the league will consider formats that will allow some of the most cherished, long-standing rivalries between teams in separate divisions — Georgia-Auburn, for example — to remain, while other schools get two rotating opponents.
But while there is clearly more discussion to be had on the league’s scheduling format for football (and Alden indicated everyone involved hopes to come to a resolution on Friday, when the school presidents will vote to approve any new concepts), there seems to have been a consensus reached on the basketball side, where the ADs and coaches also met Wednesday and agreed that an 18-game slate is the preferred model.
“I think we’re pretty much there,” said Slive, who added that it will be finalized Friday.
Alden confirmed that the format currently being considered for basketball will involve teams having home-and-home series with a permanent rival and four other SEC schools, with the latter alternating from year-to-year. Teams would then play the other eight teams in the conference once in year.
That would mean that barring an unforeseen turn of events, Missouri, whose cross-division rival has repeatedly been hinted to be Arkansas, will get to welcome the Razorbacks and former coach Mike Anderson back to Columbia sometime during the 2012-13 season.
New TV deal looming?
It’s no secret the SEC hopes to renegotiate its already lucrative television deals (Slive has admitted as much), and while Alden hinted Tuesday that he has reason to believe the end result of the negotiations will result in a substantial windfall for the league’s teams, he had nothing new to report on the subject Wednesday, saying the topic was only briefly broached.
Same goes for the often-rumored SEC Network, though Alden did expound upon the virtues of the creation of such a network, which would surely be modeled after the one the Big Ten currently operates
“It has provided tremendous growth as far as exposure and recruiting around the country,” Alden said of the Big Ten Network. “The revenue side of that has been significant, and if you look at that model and know that the SEC has a tremendous footprint as big, if not bigger, than the Big Ten, then it would seem to me that anything like that would have tremendous impact on a league as strong as the SEC.”