Les Miles renews push for new SEC schedule

HOOVER, Ala. — Les Miles spent 35 minutes Thursday behind the podium at the Wynfrey Hotel holding court.

The ninth-year LSU football coach talked about using hyperbaric chambers in concussion research, rappelling down the side of one of Baton Rouge’s tallest buildings, a daughter’s softball game, the role of social media in sports, how coaches would have banned cars back in the day and the Australian accents of his punters.

Yet he saved he final three minutes and more than 400 words for his biggest gripe at the Southeastern Conference’s Media Days: perceived unfairness in scheduling.

“A key piece to every conference is that we’d be able to describe the path to a championship in an equal and direct manner,” Miles said. “Scheduling should not in any way decide championships repeatedly or throughout.”

It was just the latest bit of lobbying by Miles since LSU began its push at last year’s SEC Spring Meeting to scrap the conference’s current scheduling format, an issue taken up more broadly as the debate unfolds whether to adopt a nine-game schedule or stand pat at eight.

The crux of Miles’ argument before 1,200 media members didn’t change: Over time, some schools are saddled with a cumulatively more difficult schedule because of cross-divsional rivalries.

Thursday’s latest round included a key stat. This season, LSU faces Eastern Division foes Florida and Georgia, which went a combined 14-2 in SEC games last season. Western Division rival Alabama draws Kentucky and long-standing rival Tennessee — opponents with a combined one SEC victory a year ago.

It will be the fifth time since 2000, only counting regular-season games, the Tigers have faced the Gators and Bulldogs in the same season — a fact Miles thinks illustrates his point that there’s an imbalance.

“There’s some other schools that have not played Georgia and Florida in the same year,” Miles said. “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.”

Just how successful Miles has been remains up for debate.

At this year’s spring meeting, talk of a long-term scheduling plan produced an affirmation of the current 6-1-1 format, with LSU only finding strong allies in South Carolina and Texas A&M. On Tuesday, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said LSU and Florida “have the most legitimate gripe of all of us” before saying Alabama didn’t have to play the top three teams in the East Division last season.

“It’s not always fair,” Spurrier said. “Scheduling does make a difference. How to make it fair, we’re not all exactly sure how to do it.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who stepped behind the podium several hours after Miles, said there’s never truly equal schedules “unless everybody plays everybody” and used the chance to reiterate his support for a nine-game league schedule. Saban’s chief point is every SEC player should face each member of the conference in his career while maintaining traditional rivals — goals only achieved by playing nine games.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditions that our fans enjoy,” Saban said. “The only way to do that is play nine games.”

And then came a little empathy for Miles from a coach whose constituency clings tightly to its rivalry with Tennessee.

“I understand where Les Miles is coming from,” Saban said. “I coached at LSU. We played Florida every year, too. So if anybody understands it, I understand it.”

The conference also formed a committee to review the matter, with the goal to have a permanent format in place by 2016, a timeline Commissioner Mike Slive said Tuesday remains unchanged.

“The simple goal of this review, although it is not simple to do, is to select the format that is in the long-term best interest of the conference as a whole,” Slive said.

But during an interview with a Baton Rouge radio station Wednesday, Slive credited Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva for pushing the topic to the forefront.

“It’s on the table even though there was an overwhelming majority (opinion) the year before,” Slive said. “That a tribute to them. This whole issue is now open for discussion.”

Miles was eager to share his view.

“If there’s anybody that would like the raw information about the scheduling, talk to Michael Bonnette,” Miles said, referring to an LSU spokesman. “He has a lot of those specifics.”

Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.