Climer: SEC needs extra cross-division game

11:24 AM, Jun 11, 2012   |    comments
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Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean 

When the SEC was in expansionist mode, one of the selling points for Texas A&M was the thought of playing a football game at Kyle Field, a.k.a. The Home of the 12th Man.

But because of the conference's stubbornness, almost half of the SEC teams will see Kyle Field only once every 12 seasons. While future conference schedules have not been announced, it is possible that Tennessee or Vanderbilt will not go to College Station until 2023.

Even Charlie Sheen has better visitation rights than that.

It's one of the biggest downsides of the SEC's decision to stick with an eight-game conference schedule instead of upping it to nine. Six of the seven teams in the opposite division will be distant strangers. You'll see each of them once every six years.

A nine-game SEC schedule would have hastened the frequency of those cross-division matchups. And a ninth conference game would give the nation additional exposure to SEC football.

At least the SEC didn't turn its back on history. Some cross-division matchups simply had to be saved. Except for 1943 when neither school fielded a team because of World War II, UT and Alabama have played every season since 1928. Even with the current disparity of the two programs, the series has to continue.

Likewise, there is too much history between Georgia and Auburn to sacrifice that rivalry. And SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri are made for each other.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure the college football world would slide off its axis if the Mississippi State-Kentucky series or Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game were discontinued. But with the current schedule format, everybody needs a permanent dance partner.

While most coaches oppose adding another conference game so they can keep scheduling games against Cupcake U. and Walkover State, Alabama's Nick Saban went on record last week in support of a nine-game conference schedule.

"When you increase the size of the league by 15 percent, you've almost got to play more games to get a true indication of who's the best team in the league," Saban said. "We should come up with some format in the future where every player in the league gets an opportunity to play every team in the league."

It makes perfect sense. And in time, that's what will happen. But it won't be because of the logic Saban espoused.

Instead, the SEC will add a ninth conference game when its TV partners demand it. CBS and ESPN already are complaining about the shortage of appealing SEC games in the first two weeks of the upcoming season. Apparently, the Ole Miss-Central Arkansas and Alabama-Western Kentucky showdowns aren't deemed must-see TV by the guys writing the checks.

Granted, a nine-game conference schedule would create a home-away imbalance. Playing five SEC road games every other season is a nightmare. But the quality of the so-called "rivalry" opponents (Tennessee plays Alabama annually while Vanderbilt gets Ole Miss, for example) already creates a scheduling imbalance across the league. Deal with it.

The SEC is the unquestioned leader in college football. Why not tee it up one more time with a ninth conference game?

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