From the first day he stepped behind the athletic director’s desk at LSU in 2008, Joe Alleva looked at Southeastern Conference football scheduling and saw something that didn’t seem quite right.
It was, and is, the permanent opponent rule. It means that LSU has to play Florida, which holds the record for SEC Championship Game appearances with 10, every year.
The matter was supposed to be addressed at last year’s SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Fla., but so contentious was the whole scheduling issue that it was tabled until this year’s get-together, which runs Tuesday through Friday.
For Alleva, a yearlong crusade for change could well come down to what happens in a few hours’ worth of closed door discussions. Alleva is confident he has people on his side who want to see permanent opponents go the way of the flying wedge and leather helmets.
Having their votes is another matter.
“I think there’s a shot, but I wouldn’t put very good odds on it,” he said.
It would take eight schools, a simple majority of the SEC’s 14 members, to force a scheduling format change.
As of now, Alleva is confident of having just two allies: South Carolina and Texas A&M. As it stands, those schools — which lie at the easternmost and westernmost fringes of the SEC — are scheduled to become each other’s permanent crossover opponent in 2014.
Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee, which are involved in two of the biggest crossover rivalries (Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia), are expected to be against any change. That means LSU would need five of the remaining six schools to vote its way.
Despite being outnumbered, Alleva remains committed to the cause.
“My personal opinion is people agree with me in their hearts but are voting in the best interests of their institutions,” he said. “They’re not voting in the best interests of the league.”
LSU coach Les Miles, who also is squarely for eliminating permanent opponents, is a little more optimistic.
“I trust they will recognize with the upcoming playoff and BCS bowls being so important, everyone should shoulder the burden of playing the better teams,” Miles said recently. “Everybody.”
The problem for LSU is, not everybody sees permanent opponents as a problem. Not even Florida, which bears as much a burden for having to play LSU every year as the Tigers do facing the Gators.
“We’re fine with it,” Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley told CBSSports.com. “I understand where Les Miles is coming (from), and I appreciate LSU’s point of view. But we think it’s a great game for us and a great game for college football.
“Yeah, it’s a tough game, but we’ve got a lot of tough games in the SEC.”
The SEC employs a 6-1-1 scheduling format for football:
- Six games against the other teams in your division (in LSU’s case, the SEC West).
- One game against a permanent opponent from the other division (for LSU, Florida from the SEC East).
- One game against a rotating opponent from the other division.
Another problem Alleva has with that format is the length of time it would take LSU to rotate through the SEC East. Using the current system, it would take until 2018 for LSU to play every team besides Florida in the SEC East. It would be until 2024 before all of those teams play in Tiger Stadium.
That lengthy time frame is one reason a nine-game SEC schedule is apparently gaining some momentum. One popular scenario is the 6-1-2 format:
- Six games against your division.
- One game against a permanent opponent from the other division.
- Two more games against rotating opponents from the other division.
If the SEC were to adopt that format for 2014, LSU would play every team in the East at least once by 2016 — or within the four-year window of a typical college player’s career.
That format also has its problems, such as the fact that every other year a school would have a maximum of seven home games with five SEC road games, a hindrance to nonconference scheduling.
Alleva said he can accept a nine-game schedule if it comes with the abolition of permanent opponents, which would result in a 6-3 format.
“I would vote for a nine-game schedule if they did away with permanent partners,” he said.
Alleva said he doesn’t think a nine-game schedule will be adopted this year but that the conference may look more strongly at it in the future.
Playing nine SEC games is likely to become even more attractive next year when the SEC Network goes on the air. It’s guaranteed to show three SEC games per week, joining the conference games on CBS and ESPN. More SEC games means more inventory for all.
“Initially, I don’t think it will go very far,” Alleva said of the nine-game schedule. “It’ll get more traction as years go by. Other conferences are playing nine. We’ll have to weigh the effect of that against a four-team playoff system (which is starting in 2014), how it affects RPI and all that.”
For all the contention over scheduling matters, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has remained noncommittal, saying he will keep an open mind.
“Will it be an agenda item in Destin? Yes, of course,” he said to The Associated Press. “We understand the importance of the issue. We understand the interest in the issue. At the same time … we’ll discuss it and approach it in a careful and deliberate manner as we try to do everything we do.”