As a Tennessee football fan, do you value tradition and fairness, or do you want what serves the Vols best? Well, if the league expands to 16 teams in the near future with the additions of the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners, those two things will be at odds with each other.
According to SI.com’s Ross Dellenger, the number of planning format proposals for the 16-team league was reduced to two just before its annual meeting in Destin, Fla. next week. Both give Rocky Top an edge going forward.
One is an eight-game format where a team has an annual opponent and then plays the other seven on a rotating basis of the remaining 14 available opponents. The other is a nine-game format where teams have three annual opponents and then take turns playing the other six against the remaining 12 available opponents.
In both scenarios, Tennessee Football wins. Let’s start with the eight-game plan with an annual opponent. When that happens, the Vanderbilt Commodores or South Carolina Gamecocks will be the enemy of the Vols. They won’t pull the Alabama Crimson Tide as the Iron Bowl stays with them and the Auburn Tigers.
You might say they’ll draw the Georgia Bulldogs, but UGA will likely draw South Carolina or the Florida Gators first, especially if Florida needs an annual opponent. Despite the history, there’s no way the Vols’ draw is Florida. Simply put, Vandy is the obvious choice.
What if there is a three-team rotation? Well, Dellenger predicted UT would face South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama. Given South Carolina’s location, it’s almost certain that the Vols will have to play them in a three-team format. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is a domestic opponent, so the league will protect that game as well.
With that in mind, it’s fair to assume both will be on the Tennessee Football board annually, a huge advantage even if it means they face Alabama. Either way, this is good for the vols. But it’s bad for the league.
Of course, for starters, this means eliminating divisions, which means that only the top two teams with the best records in the SEC championship will likely go head-to-head. In a 16-team league, depending on the format, teams have six or seven opponents they don’t play in a year.
This creates an enormous amount of injustice and inequality in planning. If there’s a two or three game difference on an eight game plan, that’s fine, but this is a scenario where you have a seven game difference on an eight game plan or one on a nine game plan difference of eight games. As a result, the team draw makes a big difference in determining the records.
Take last year’s ranking for example. What if a Tennessee football took on Vanderbilt, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, the Texas Longhorns, the LSU Tigers, and the Missouri Tigers? That would be a pretty damn random draw if Vandy was the only annual opponent.
Then, on the other hand, look at the Auburn Tigers, whose opponents of the year could be Alabama. What if they also faced Georgia, the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Ole Miss Rebels, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas A&M Aggies? If both are in contention for the title, the Vols would have an insane advantage.
When you go to nine games things get a little better but you still have the same problem. In reality, eliminating divisions only retains some semblance of fairness when you have a nine-game schedule and a 14-team league. Once there are 16 teams, there are too many differences.
Second, however, it will also eliminate rivalries no matter what. The Vols cannot play regularly in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Okay, you might not think of some of these rivalries, but many traditionalists do.
So what’s the solution? Honestly, the best move for the Southeastern Conference is to keep the divisions. Move Alabama and Auburn into SEC East, and Missouri joins West along with Texas and Oklahoma. There are so many reasons this works.
You play all seven teams in your division and two in the other division on a rotating basis, so every four-year-old plays every SEC school at least once. As a result, teams vying to win their division have at most two different opponents in a nine-game slate, which isn’t bad. This creates fairness and allows teams to see each other frequently.
More importantly, however, it actually preserves rivalries. The eight most-played games in the SEC when the league expands will all be protected: Georgia-Auburn, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Texas-Texas A&M, Texas-Oklahoma, Tennessee-Kentucky, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, and LSU-Mississippi State LSU Ole Miss.
Add Tennessee-Alabama, and nine of the 10 series among teams in the league that have played at least 100 games will all remain. Only Mississippi State-Alabama would go. They also reestablish old Big 12 and Southwest rivalries that involved Missouri and Arkansas.
In many ways, this split restores once-lost rivalries and brings back more traditional ones than when the league consisted of 12 teams. It would be terrible for Tennessee football, however, as the Vols would then face Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn every year.
Honestly, the divisions wouldn’t normally stack, as LSU, Texas and Oklahoma are powerhouses in their own right, and now that Texas A&M has these deep pockets, they’re going to compete. As a result, there would be a balance of power.
Simply put, this is a win across the board and one that every fan of the sport in general should want. The question for those in Rocky Top is do you prefer that or do you prefer what’s easiest for Tennessee football? After all, the leading proposals give them a huge unfair advantage. You could say it’s bittersweet for fans who care about both.