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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
The Southeastern Conference announced Sunday that it will continue with its football scheduling format consisting of eight league games and with one permanent opponent from the opposite division.
With the arrival of Missouri and Texas A&M before the 2012 season, the SEC developed the 6-1-1 format and used it for the bridge schedules of the past two seasons and for the next two seasons as well. League presidents and athletic directors have debated in recent months whether to go permanently to nine SEC games or remain at eight with a 6-0-2 format that would eliminate permanent foes from opposite divisions, but the existing format will be used for 2016 and well beyond.
One tweak to the schedule moving forward is that every SEC team must play one game against an opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 on an annual basis. This change has no effect on Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina, who will end each season against its respective state rival from the ACC.
"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual nonconference schedule," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. "Critical to maintaining this format is the nonconference opponent factor, which gives us the added strength of schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.
"The concept of strength of schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with nonconference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major nonconference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume of opponents each and every year."
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are the only SEC teams who do not face a foe this season from another big five conference, but the Aggies are scheduled to play UCLA in 2016 and the Commodores are scheduled to play Georgia Tech.
Tradition played a huge role, Slive said, in protecting the permanent cross-divisional games such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
Alabama and Tennessee have met every year since the inception of the SEC in 1933, with the exception of 1943 due to World War II. The Crimson Tide and Volunteers rank 1-2 in terms of league titles, with Alabama having won 23 and Tennessee 13.
"The announcement from our conference office regarding future scheduling assures that the Tennessee-Alabama game, one of college football's most historic rivalries, will continue on an annual basis moving forward," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in a statement. "Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I have strongly and consistently advocated that this rivalry be preserved regardless of any other outcomes resulting from conversations about football scheduling."
Auburn and Georgia have met more times than any other SEC tandem, with Auburn using a miraculous 73-yard touchdown on fourth-and-18 last November to take a 55-54-8 series lead. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs and Georgia counterpart Greg McGarity have said that maintaining the Deep South's oldest rivalry was a top priority.
Maintaining the cross-divisional rivalries did not please South Carolina, which had never played Arkansas before those two teams joined the league in 1992, and was especially upsetting to LSU. The Tigers have to play Florida each year, with those two schools having combined for four of the last eight league championships.
"I'm disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn't understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Sunday in a statement. "I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally, but we don't share our opponents equally.
"Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples."
Keeping the permanent cross-division games in addition to the eight-game schedule will make for very infrequent rotating matchups. For example, should Alabama host Georgia in 2016, the two teams would not be scheduled to play again in Tuscaloosa until 2028.
Approval of the scheduling format came at a special joint meeting of the SEC presidents, chancellors and athletic directors Sunday in Atlanta.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
WEST VS. EAST
The SEC's cross-divisional partners moving forward will have a different look due to the desire of Arkansas and Missouri developing a border rivalry:
Alabama vs. Tennessee
Arkansas vs. Missouri
Auburn vs. Georgia
LSU vs. Florida
Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt
Mississippi State vs. Kentucky
Texas A&M vs. South Carolina