- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Throughout the SEC's historic run, a common complaint in this space questioned the SEC's apparent reluctance to play games in Big Ten territory. The theory certainly had legs.
Other than a handful of teams -- Vanderbilt, Alabama and, most recently, Missouri -- the SEC never set foot in Big Ten stadiums. Alabama had been the one willing participant, scheduling series with Penn State and Michigan State. The Tide also agreed to a neutral-site game (read: more SEC than Big Ten) near Dallas against Wisconsin to open the 2015 season.
But Alabama won't play in Spartan Stadium after all. The Detroit Free Press reports that the Tide have cancelled their home-and-home series with Michigan State, scheduled for 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and 2017 in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Free Press' Joe Rexrode in a text message that uncertainty with the upcoming SEC schedule prompted the change. The Michigan State-Alabama matchup could have paired Tide coach Nick Saban against his former team.
"While disappointed, in the spirit of collegiality, we agreed to the request," Hollis' message reads.
He's not the only one bummed out by this news. Matchups featuring the Big Ten and SEC already are rare, and we just lost two of them in the coming seasons.
Schedules are changing around college football and the SEC, like most power conferences, is headed toward a nine-game league slate. Marquee non-conference games can be tricky, especially the true home-and-homes, as they impact budgets and the like. Vanderbilt pulled out of games against two Big Ten teams -- Ohio State and Northwestern -- scheduled for this season, citing schedule complexities.
It's too bad Alabama couldn't make this work. Some will say the Tide are running from a game in Big Ten country, but if you really think Alabama is scared of Michigan State, you're delusional.
Hollis has been refreshingly proactive in scheduling big-time non-league series, and Michigan State will play Oregon the next two seasons, and Miami in 2020 and 2021. He has been hesitant to go along with the neutral-site trend, placing a premium on bringing marquee teams to Spartan Stadium.
Unfortunately, Alabama won't be one of those squads.
Michigan State still is scheduled to face longtime rival Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017. The Spartans haven't played an SEC team in the regular season since 1947
There will be a handful of Big Ten-SEC matchups in the coming seasons, including Wisconsin-LSU at neutral sites in 2014 and 2016, Wisconsin-Alabama in 2015, Nebraska-Tennessee in 2015-16 and Michigan-Arkansas in 2018-19. Hopefully, the upcoming College Football Playoff, which will emphasize schedule strength, leads to more of these matchups.
For now, we're left to lament what might have been.
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