The time has come.
Imbalanced, arbitrary football schedules, unfavorable bowl politics and a conference office that frequently indicates it is ignoring LSU’s concerns and needs have led the school and its athletic program to this point:
It is time to consider seceding from the Southeastern Conference.
LSU is a charter member of the SEC dating to 1933, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there forever. Not if there are other, appealing options out there.
Where could LSU go? With the Big East dissolving, the ACC in flux, the Big Ten and Pac-12 too far away and independent status not a viable option for scheduling and economic reasons, LSU’s only real option would be to join the Big 12. It’s the conference closest to LSU in terms of physical location and philosophy.
Here are five reasons why there’s no better time for LSU to leave the SEC:
The newly expanded SEC goes into 2013 with a temporary schedule in place for the second straight year as the conference grapples with how to set up a long-term scheduling format. The SEC slapped a bandage on this upcoming season’s schedule, but it hardly attempts to cover the wounds the 2012 temporary schedule created.
The main problem, from LSU’s perspective, is a schedule that puts the Tigers at a competitive disadvantage to its chief rival for SEC West supremacy (with apologies to Texas A&M and Johnny Heisman), Alabama. Not only does LSU have to play at Alabama in 2013 as it usually does in odd-numbered years, but the Tigers also have to play at Georgia and host Florida, teams that tied for first in the SEC East this past season with 7-1 marks.
Alabama’s two opponents out of the East? Tennessee in Tuscaloosa and Kentucky on the road, teams that went a combined 1-15 in conference play and are breaking in new coaches.
The SEC did LSU a disservice and cannot be unaware of that. The Tigers have the chance to field another prime BCS title contender in 2013 (one early poll puts LSU as preseason No. 3), but the Tigers will have a much tougher road to Pasadena and the final non-playoff BCS Championship Game playing the Bulldogs and Gators than will the Crimson Tide playing the Volunteers and Wildcats.
National championship seasons are hard to come by. And LSU’s may get short-circuited before it even starts.
The biggest continuing flaw in SEC football scheduling is the concept of permanent, opposite-division opponents. Permanent opponents are the SEC’s hide-bound attempt to cling to traditional rivalries that would otherwise be disrupted by East and West divisions, primarily Alabama/Tennessee and Auburn/Georgia.
One can argue those are rivalries worth preserving, but since everyone is required to have a permanent opponent, the SEC also has given us such non-stimulating annual showdowns as Ole Miss/Vanderbilt and Mississippi State/Kentucky.
LSU is saddled with Florida as its permanent opponent, while Alabama has Tennessee. Florida has finished with a better record than Tennessee in six of the past seven seasons, with the Vols having failed to post even an above-.500 SEC record since winning the SEC East in 2007.
LSU lobbied at the SEC Spring Meeting in May to eliminate permanent opponents but was soundly defeated. The school will push again at the next meeting in May. Failing that, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva proposes that the SEC adopt the Pac-12 model, which allows those schools that want permanent opponents to have them and those that do not to rotate.
The 10-member Big 12 does not have divisions — all of its members play everyone else in a nine-game conference schedule. When the Big 12 did have 12 members split into six-team North and South divisions, schools played the five teams in their division, three teams from the other division for two years, then the other three teams for two years. Fair and balanced.
The football scheduling plan comes out of an SEC office in Birmingham, Ala., that fairly or not has long been seen as being too close to the Alabama campus — geographically and philosophically — for the rest of the conference’s good. Certainly it is not a one-sport league, but football drives the SEC’s economic train and is the face of the conference nation-wide.
LSU’s hopes and desires when it comes to football have been routinely ignored, especially of late when it comes to permanent opponents (which Alabama favors) and in terms of this season’s bowl landscape.
The SEC protected championship-game loser Georgia by convincing the Capital One Bowl to take the Bulldogs; allowed the Cotton Bowl to choose Texas A&M over LSU; and discouraged the Outback Bowl from taking LSU (for a first-ever game with Michigan) to avoid a Chick-fil-A Bowl rematch between South Carolina and Clemson. Had the SEC urged the Cotton to take LSU over A&M — the Tigers beat the Aggies and are higher ranked — and sent A&M to the Chick-fil-A, it would have been a more equitable arrangement.
Instead, LSU is left to make its fifth trip to the Chick-fil-A since 1996 and 11th trip to Atlanta in that span to play a game that, despite an excellent matchup, has failed to whip LSU fans into a ticket-buying frenzy.
LSU at last count had sold a little more than 10,000 of its 16,000 tickets for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU took more than 16,000 orders for 12,500 Cotton Bowl tickets — a bowl that has a Big 12 tie-in opposite the SEC.
Conference realignment is trendier these days than even Johnny Heisman. The past couple of years have seen schools leave traditional conference homes for new affiliations that once would have seemed impossible: Nebraska to the Big Ten, West Virginia to the Big 12, Utah to the Pac-12 — and don’t forget Missouri to the SEC.
Eventually, college athletics is likely to be dominated by four 16-team super-conferences. The blocks of those super-conferences are now shifting. It makes sense to go now before the blocks are set in place.
Certainly leaving the SEC for Big 12 would mean longer road trips — Ames, Iowa, for instance, over Starkville, Miss.; or Stillwater, Okla., instead of Knoxville, Tenn. It seems impossible to consider until you watched West Virginia play a Big 12 game at Texas Tech last season.
Traditional geographic lines have not only been blurred in big-time college athletics, they have been obliterated. It is no longer an unwritten requirement that conference members be from states that border each other — although Louisiana does border Texas.
Before Arkansas and A&M joined the SEC, LSU was forever the SEC’s westernmost outpost. What would be so odd about being the Big 12’s southernmost? Not at all as unfathomable as it once seemed.
Certainly were LSU to leave the SEC for the Big 12, it would come with some huge issues.
But after years of mounting frustration in the SEC, perhaps a fresh start would be best for LSU under the right circumstances.
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