Les Miles questions SEC scheduling format

Stalling for 343 seconds during his allotted time on the Southeastern Conference teleconference, LSU football coach Les Miles capped his filibuster with a prickly topic that unifies Tigers fans.

Casually, Miles addressed his program’s SEC itinerary this fall. And revived a common thread of contention Baton Rouge has with the conference office.

“It’s interesting to see if you would compare our schedule with others,” Miles said Wednesday. “I wonder if there should be no permanent partners.”

Twenty one words touched off chatter and opining from coaches surrounding how the SEC tailors its scheduling format starting in 2014 and whether it nixes cross-division rivalries or adopts a nine-game schedule were revived.

And Miles’ hasn’t amended his stance, either: Dump the current format.

“The key piece for any conference certainly is to allow equal access to be champion,” Miles said. “I suspect there’s going to be some questions there.”

A cursory glance at LSU’s draw underscores Miles’ quibbles with the system.

The Tigers’ two cross-over opponents in Florida and Georgia tout a combined .642 SEC win percentage and three division titles since 2009. A road trip to two-time defending national champion Alabama and a home tilt against Texas A&M loom, too.

The topic of scheduling has dragged out since May at the conference’s spring meetings, a conversation Commissioner Mike Slive called a “vigorous discussion” before the member presidents voted to stick with the status quo.

The model was favored largely because it protected traditional rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia, while coaches have been hesitant to expand the docket to nine conference games.

At the time, Miles suggested the current 6-1-1 format isn’t popular among a majority of his colleagues, while LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva advocated abolishing a structure that created “competitive inequity over the whole league.”

On Wednesday, Miles tossed out his own solution.

“I wonder if a computer might pick a fair scheduling by random draw,” Miles said.

Meanwhile, Miles staked out a position seemingly alone from his colleagues, whose tones were less-than-enthused in addressing a matter they seemingly have little direct control over.

“We’ve exhausted this pretty good here,” Florida’s Will Muschamp said. “Again, those decisions are not made by the coaches. We can voice our opinions. I understand the arguments on both sides of it, but at the end of the day, we have some people that want the permanent opponents.”

The notion abandoning permanent crossover opponents tossed out by Miles found some measure of support from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Granted, it was tepid and laced with subtle sarcasm.

“If we want to be fair, we wouldn’t have permanent crossover opponents,” Spurrier said. “But nobody said it’s supposed to be fair.”

Several fan bases have pushed the notion the format remains unchanged because Alabama, which doesn’t want to lose a rivalry game against Tennessee, has served as an obstructionist.

Quieting conspiracy theorists isn’t helped by the Tide drawing rebuilding programs in Kentucky and Tennessee, who have a combined 16-48 record since 2009.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban reiterated his same view­ “that every player should have the opportunity in his four-year career to play every SEC school.”

“If we don’t at least have a two-team rotation with the other side, East (or) West, whatever you’re in, that doesn’t really happen,” Saban said. “The one fixed opponent and one-team rotation means you’re going to the play the other teams (every) six or seven years.”

Roughly translated, Saban appeared to be calling for a nine-game SEC schedule, with potential formats such as retaining a cross-division rival and rotating among two other opponents.

While such a move would preserve traditional rivalries, a flip side would be unbalanced home and away schedules for SEC teams. Instead of a November reprieve against a mid-major or Football Championship Subdivision foe, another conference bludgeoning might materialize.

“Most coaches like eight games,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “One of the reasons is that it’s such a tough league. It certainly has a huge effect on your four nonconference games going down to three. If you’re a coach, you recognize that.”

A shift to a nine-game conference schedule, however, isn’t unprecedented.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences have already made the transition, while the Big Ten Conference could approve a similar move as early as next week starting in the 2016 season with new additions Rutgers and Maryland in the fold.

A practical hiccup is what happens when a program wants seven home games, but is mandated to play five conference road games in an unbalanced schedule. Vanderbilt coach James Fanklin said it strips a degree of flexibility from programs to craft schedules that fit their needs.

“They can go out and schedule a competitive out-of-conference schedule, and that allows you to play for a national championship or whatever you’re trying to do,” Franklin said. “If you’re another program that’s trying to build, then you have the opportunity to solve your problems.”

Factoring into the analysis, too, is the looming creation of a new national network between ESPN and the SEC, whose announcement was postponed last week.

Reportedly set to launch in August 2014, the conference bought back third-tier television rights from IMG College, Learfield Sports and CBS Collegiate Sport Properties. It’s a move that would allow ESPN to broadcast every SEC football game outside of one featured on CBS.

What demands ESPN might make in regards to content could trickle down into the scheduling discussion, Pinkel said.

“There’s just a lot of aspects to it,” Pinkel said. “TV will have something to say about that also about what they would like.”