SEC football coaches differ on league slate

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the Southeastern Conference is tweaking its football and basketball schedules.

Football coaches are having a tougher time deciding on what changes to make than their basketball counterparts.

“The consensus is that there’s not the right answer right now that suits everyone,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

Mullen and the 13 other league coaches are debating whether to play an eight- or nine-game conference schedule and whether to maintain cross-division rivals like Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and LSU-Florida. It’s not an easy decision considering each school has different allegiances.

Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia all want to continue their longtime rivalries. LSU, meanwhile, would prefer to dump its annual game against Florida in favor of playing other Eastern Division teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky more often.

“It’s not because I’m opposed to playing Florida,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said. “I just think it creates a competitive inequity in the whole league. In my opinion, people are voting for their own self-interests, not what’s best for the whole league.”

Coaches presented their thoughts and concerns to athletic directors Wednesday. The ADs will make a recommendation to school presidents and chancellors Friday before the conference settles on a format for future schedules.

Moving to a nine-game schedule is a long shot at best. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina already have non-conference games against in-state rivals, so adding a ninth league game would make daunting schedules even more difficult.

The most likely scenario appears to be keeping things status quo, with an eight-game conference slate that includes one designated rival from the opposite division and a rotating game against the other six teams.

“Mississippi State is going to play Kentucky every year,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that’s disproportionate. I’m not for that. I’m not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. Again, it’s disproportionate. I think there should be an opportunity to see a greater segment of the conference. I think the opportunity to rotate two games as opposed to one game, not annually picking an arbitrary criteria to determine the champion.

“I’d say the majority would be for that.”

Um, not quite.

“I’ve been in this league for a while and I have a national championship ring from when my crossover games at the University of Florida that were Auburn, Alabama and LSU,” Mullen said. “Is that fair? But we still won a national title. I don’t see how there’s any relevance to that. It all balances out.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt laughed when told Miles said most coaches wanted to eliminate designated rivals.

“There are a lot of issues going on here, but some people think the rivals games are really important and some people think their rival games really aren’t that important,” Richt said. “Some of the rival games are because we played over a hundred years and some of the rivals are because somebody arbitrarily said, ‘That’s your rival team.’ Some have a hard-felt emotion to it and some don’t.”

Miles and Alleva were the most outspoken on the topic. Not even Arkansas and South Carolina, who would end their designated rivalry under the new scheduling format, didn’t seem to really care they are being thrown into annual games with newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said one option would be to try to preserve traditional crossover rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia and let everyone else rotate two opponents annually.

“We’ve asked our people to look at that as one of the possible formats,” Slive said. “We have looked at that. There’s some real complexities with that. That’s a nice solution if it was available, but like everything else, every time we do something it raises another set of issues and you’ve got to balance those against the issues raised by another format.”

Basketball coaches had fewer problems Wednesday.

They proposed an 18-game league schedule that would keep all 14 teams together instead of moving back to divisions. Teams would play everyone at least once (13 games) and have one annual home-and-home series with a designated rival. Those rivalries are Kentucky-Florida, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Georgia-South Carolina, Alabama-Auburn, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Arkansas-Missouri and LSU-Texas A&M.

The remaining four games each season would be filled by the other 12 teams on a rotating basis.

The format, along with changes to the postseason tournament, likely will be approved Friday.

“We’re going to do a lot of things for the first time with a 14-team league that we may look back a year from now and say, ‘That’s a great idea,’” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We may also do some things we thought, ‘Well, you know, we didn’t see that coming. Maybe we want to change our thought.’”

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