DESTIN, Fla. — The football scheduling format the Southeastern Conference will adopt starting with the 2013 season has become, not surprisingly, the political football of the 2012 SEC Spring Meeting.
Everything from nine conference games to games against six division opponents and two rotating opponents to some schools having permanent cross-divisional opponents and others have been discussed.
But there is no question, as SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, which format is “the leader in the clubhouse.”
And it’s a leader with a score that even detractors like LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva know will be mighty tough to beat.
The favored format is known as the 6-1-1. In it, teams would play the six teams in their division, one permanent cross-division opponent and one rotating team from the other division.
That format would preserve traditional games such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia, long-standing rivalries that became protected when the SEC expanded from 10 to 12 teams and split into Eastern and Western divisions in 1992.
The format also forces some schools together, such as LSU and Florida, which have played each other annually since 1971.
Alleva and LSU coach Les Miles have argued the permanent opponent sets up competitive imbalances.
Florida coach Will Muschamp, LSU’s former defensive coordinator at LSU, has said that he would like the Tigers to remain as the Gators’ permanent SEC West opponent, competitive imbalance or no.
“The nondivisional opponents should just be rotated,” Alleva said. “It’s the fairest and most equitable way to do it. Anybody who doesn’t vote that way is simply voting in the best interests of their institution, not the best interests of the conference. That’s my opinion.”
“If Mississippi State is going to play Kentucky every year, I think that’s disproportionate,” Miles said. “I’m not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. I think there should be an opportunity to see a greater segment of the conference, the opportunity to rotate two games as opposed to one game.
“I would say a majority (of coaches) would be for that.”
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, whose Bulldogs play Kentucky out of the SEC East every year, disagreed.
“No, I don’t know that that’s it,” Mullen said. “I don’t think anybody has the right answer as they look at it.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose SEC East school plays Auburn of the SEC West in one of the annual rivalries at the heart of the debate, said there was no consensus among the football coaches.
“It was a situation where everybody had a good reason for why some format worked for them,” Richt said.
“My sentiment, to be real clear, is we should play Auburn.”
Alleva is most in favor of a 6-2 model. Under that format, teams would annually play the six teams in their division and two rotating opponents from the other division.
However, Alleva seemed resigned to his and LSU’s fate after he emerged Wednesday afternoon from the athletic directors’ series of meetings with football and basketball coaches.
Alleva said the only firm proponents of ending permanent cross-divisional opponents are LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
“Even though it’s unfair and inequitable, I think it will still pass,” Alleva said of the 6-1-1 format.
“I think there’s going to be some more discussion to go to a 6-2 model, but I don’t think there’s enough votes in the room.
“I you’re going to do that (6-1-1) then you should just count the games within the division for the division winner. But that doesn’t have any traction, either.”
Though it is also a long shot, discussion is ongoing to create a format by which schools that want a permanent opponent can go with a 6-1-1 format, and those that do not could have a 6-2 format.
Slive was asked specifically about keeping Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia as permanent opponents while rotating the other 10 schools, though in reality some of those schools would also favor permanent opponents.
“We’ve asked our people to look at that as one of the possible formats,” Slive said. “There’s some real complexities with that.
“That’s a nice solution if it was available but like everything else, every time we do something, it raises another set of issues. And you’ve got to balance those against the issues raised by another format.”
“I think it’s a scheduling nightmare,” Alleva said. “They’re putting it in the computer to see if it can fly, so we’ll see.”
The possibility of a nine-game SEC schedule, which would likely result in a format with one permanent and two rotating opponents, was also discussed, but for many may be a nonstarter.
“I’m not in favor of that,” Alleva said, “mainly because every other year I would lose a home game. That’s a lot of revenue. Another reason is I think we would beat each other up too much.
“I don’t think that would pass.”
While the possibility exists that a scheduling format could be put in place and changed in a couple of years, a long-term plan is clearly the goal.
Alleva said he believes a scheduling format would likely be in place for 8-10 years.
“Once we establish a model,” Alleva said, “it’s going to be in place for a long time to come.”
“You can try something, but if it isn’t really working in the best interest of the league, you could always make an adjustment,” Slive said. “But we’re going to try to take the best shot we can first.”
The goal is to announce a football scheduling format by Friday, the final day of the SEC Spring Meeting.