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If Auburn has its way, Tigers of a different stripe would roam the SEC East.
Former football coach and athletic director Pat Dye began beating the drum again in mid-May, suggesting that Auburn didn’t belong in the SEC West.
His preference, as explained on the May 15 “Paul Finebaum Show,” is to swap places with Missouri and move to a nine-game conference schedule.
“We touch Florida, Georgia and Tennessee,” Dye said on the show. “We need to be in the East and Missouri needs to be in the West. If we played nine games, we could do it, because we could still play Alabama every year then we’d have our rivalry with Tennessee and Florida and Georgia just like we’ve always had.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey apparently doesn’t agree.
“It’s not an agenda item,” Sankey told reporters Tuesday during the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla.
He added that the issue only comes up during occasional press conferences.
Sankey later reiterated that conference realignment and the prospect of a nine-game SEC schedule for football aren’t on the agenda this year.
That’s fine with Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk.
“The SEC leadership is not discussing this issue as the commissioner stated yesterday, and furthermore, Mizzou is happy with the divisional alignments as they stand today,” Sterk said in a statement to The Star.
Still, Dye isn’t alone in preferring Auburn change divisions.
Current Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said it’s “a legitimate conversation to have at some point as a league,” adding that an Auburn-Mizzou division swap “makes sense.”
“We’re not going to talk anything formally about it this weekend or this week, but, at some point, we will,” Jacobs said.
Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn also indicated he’d support such a move, but scheduling is a major sticking point.
Within the conference, Alabama’s rivalries with Auburn and Tennessee are considered sacrosanct.
The SEC opted to create permanent cross-division rivals in 2012 and set a 12-year schedule after considerable discussion during 2013-14 academic year, when the conference elected to stick with an eight-game schedule rather than move to nine games.
That means the SEC slate is set through 2025, allowing for one permanent cross-division not to mention the complication of non-conference scheduling.
Mizzou’s 2018 and 2019 schedules are set and some nonconference games already are contracting through 2025.
Preserving both Alabama-Tennessee and Alabama-Auburn would require adding a ninth game (and creating a second permanent cross-division rival for the rest of the SEC), which can’t happen anytime soon.
So, while geographically it’s never made sense for Mizzou to be in the SEC East — only Texas A&M (College Station, Texas) and Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.) located farther west than Columbia, Mo. — Auburn’s dream of playing in the SEC East isn’t likely to materialize in the near term.
It’s a move that only substantively impacts football, but would get Auburn away from yearly tussles with Alabama and LSU for a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn’s last appearance in the SEC Championship Game came in 2013, a 59-42 victory against Missouri.
Alabama or LSU has won the SEC West during eight of the last 10 seasons with the only other exception being Auburn’s 2010 national championship season.