Spurrier said it’s no coincidence that Alabama and Georgia were the two teams playing in the SEC championship game last season, and that the combined league records of their cross-divisional opponents was 6-26.
The league schedule a year ago and the 2013 league schedule were both “bridge” schedules and not part of any regular rotation. They were put into place to accommodate the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.
The hot debate now is whether to go to nine conference games in 2016, as well as what to do with permanent cross-divisional games such as Florida-LSU, Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said last week at the SEC spring meetings that figuring out what to do with those rivalry games had been one of the “knots” in trying to sort out the scheduling format going forward. The SEC will continue to play eight conference games with a 6-1-1 format through 2015, then reassess the scheduling format beginning with the 2016 season. Most in and around the league think it's inevitable that the SEC will go to nine conference games.
“We try one, and there’s a knot, then try another one and there’s a big knot, whether it’s permanents, whether it’s traditional games or whether it’s too many games,” Slive said. “At some point in time, we’re going to have to unravel one of those knots and just make a decision.”
Spurrier has a solution if Slive and others are dead-set on maintaining the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries on an annual basis.
“They can still play every year. Just let it be a nonconference game in those years when it’s not in the rotation,” said Spurrier, who wants to keep it at eight conference games with a 6-0-2 format (a straight rotation of cross-divisional foes and no permanent foes).
“That way, Alabama and Tennessee can keep on playing every year. They don’t have big in-state rivals out of conference like some of us do. If the commissioner or anybody else doesn’t think Clemson-South Carolina and FSU-Florida are big games, they ought to come watch them.
“I’m all for Alabama and Tennessee playing every year. We can still play eight, and that would be their ninth game every year. It just won’t count in their conference records unless that’s the year they’re supposed to play in the league. I’m sure Tennessee would love that.”
Alabama has won six in a row against Tennessee and has yet to lose to the Vols since Nick Saban arrived in 2007.
Saban is the only SEC coach advocating that the league go to nine conference games, and he would also like to see all teams play 10 BCS games.
Spurrier points out that’s exactly what the Gamecocks are doing in 2013. In addition to their eight league games, they’re playing North Carolina to open the season and then their annual season-ending contest with Clemson.
“Coach Saban doesn’t have a big rival out of conference he plays every year, and I understand it’s hard for them to get (nonconference) games,” Spurrier said. “So let them and Tennessee play every year. That’s what we ought to do.
“Maybe Alabama can pick a fight with Texas. Texas doesn’t play Texas A&M anymore, and they need somebody to play out of conference.”
Alabama has gone out and played a marquee nonconference game every year since Saban’s been there. The Crimson Tide open the 2013 season against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, and they also have West Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up on the schedule in future years.
The overriding argument for keeping the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries on an annual basis is that they’re such a part of the SEC’s fabric. Auburn-Georgia is the Deep South’s oldest rivalry, and Alabama and Tennessee first met in 1901.
Spurrier concedes that tradition is important, but that it’s not the end-all in today’s world of college football.
“College football’s changing, and it’s going to keep changing,” Spurrier said. “Missouri’s in the SEC now. West Virginia’s in the Big 12. Heck, we’ve got 14 teams now in the SEC. I guess everybody’s definition of tradition is a little different.”