Harris: Les Miles keeps scheduling topic alive

LSU football coach Les Miles (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
LSU football coach Les Miles (AP Photo/April L. Brown)

BY MATTHEW HARRIS

Advocate sportswriter

Les Miles’ hearing was just fine Monday as ESPN’s Chris Fowler probed a topic that’s become the topic du jour for LSU’s coach: SEC scheduling.

A transcript of the exchange would seemingly go on forever, but the Cliffs Notes version is relatively simple. Fowler framed the discussion with a stat that’s been bandied about frequently since SEC football media days last week.

This season, LSU’s cross-division foes, Florida and Georgia, finished a combined 14-2 in conference play last season. Meanwhile, Western Division rival Alabama draws Tennessee and Kentucky, holders of a putrid 1-15 combined mark.

In Hoover, Ala., Miles needed the help of a moderator to understand a reporter’s question on the inequity — one LSU has framed as a byproduct of keeping permanent opponents in place to preserve rivalries.

Miles needed two minutes to distill his message that LSU’s mandated annual game with Florida has potential to deal the Tigers a potentially tougher draw over the long term.

The gist of his message was buried, but blunt.

“I’d have to say there’s a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups,” Miles told the packed ballroom.

So it figured Monday that he’d wallop Fowler’s softball over the fence.

“The good news is, it’s not a horse race,” Miles said. “We control our outcomes. We play everybody on our schedule. The bad news is that they’re on our schedule.”

Then this tidbit: “Now, the schedule in the future, that’s not my job.”

Indeed, it’s not on Miles to-do list. Yet the combined lobbying effort with Athletic Director Joe Alleva has now shifted to a subtle phase. In April, Miles seemed zany when he suggested to reporters letting a computer randomly assign schedules. But it had the desired effect of bringing up the topic with the conference’s spring meetings looming.

In Destin, Fla., the conference affirmed a commitment to its current 6-1-1 structure, but LSU notched an important concession: A study group to examine the format moving into 2016.

Sure, a nine-game conference slate — potentially under a 6-2-1 format, with two rotating cross-division opponents — seems our likely destination. Yet LSU has done a nice job raising the topic in way that doesn’t make the school appear as if it’s leery of facing Florida.

Instead, Miles and Alleva have framed the issue as one of equity: Why are some programs saddled with tougher schedules to preserve three rivalry games involving the cast of Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia?

Simply raising the issue, though, is a testament to tact. The SEC continues to contend its moves are made with an eye toward progress, but not at the sake of tradition.

Miles has helped lead the conference toward broaching a change that could imperil those rivalries.

It’s an act of shrewdness on Miles’ part. It should also quiet any critics who think such an act is beyond his grasp.