A few weeks ago, I declared that the SEC must absolutely play a nine-game conference schedule to preserve deep-seeded historic rivalries in a new 14-team conference world. As it turns out, I may have only been thinking inside the box. After a month of reading lots of opposition to that extra game, I was almost starting to see both sides. Still undaunted in my efforts to preserve the hallowed traditions of games like Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, and LSU-Florida, new inspiration came in the form of a Fanpost last week.
Regular commenter FlyAuburn13 came up with a dandy proposal for a new conference format that basically dropped the divisions and simply assigned permanent rivals to each team's desire. While that idea was great on paper, there still remained the little catch of the NCAA rule that allowed for divisional play in the first place,
Catch Rule 184.108.40.206:
Annual Exemptions. [FBS/FCS] The maximum number of football contests shall exclude the following:
(c) Twelve-Member Conference Championship Game. [FBS/FCS] A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division;
Yes, you must have at least twelve teams, (sorry Big
12) you have to split into divisions, and the teams in those divisions must play each other. And it's that notion of 'playing each other' that really complicates things and prevents a football conference commune, but we can Nick Saban that guideline a little later.
What many don't realize is that conferences can petition the NCAA for an exception to 220.127.116.11, which surfaced with some conferences wanting conference championship games a few years ago with only 10 teams. The only catch with the petition is that it takes a while--kinda like getting tax money back from the government in fiscal year 2012. You must request by July 15 for any change to be made for the following season. So say that Mike Slive wanted to ask Mother, May I from the NCAA this summer, it wouldn't go into effect until the 2013 season, which last I looked, was when we were really gonna need it.
In keeping with FlyAuburn13's proposal of dropping divisions altogether, the SEC could ask the NCAA for permission to drop the round-robin portion of 18.104.22.168, which would mean that although a team is in a particular division, they don't necessarily have to play every other team in that division every year. Although counter-intuitive at first, how liberating is that notion? Obviously, the first casualty of the division race is head-to-head competition, but after Alabama's improbable run last year, that's not that big an impediment, is it?
There are so many other ways to determine the participants in Atlanta should they end up with identical conference records so I don't believe we'd end up with a mythical conference champ as was oft the result in the 1980s and before. Within the allotted eight conference games, you could play two or perhaps three permanent games and the rest could rotate, insuring the preservation of traditional rivalries and preventing large gaps in playing other conference stablemates.
The conference divisions would be relegated to being merely placeholders for teams, as geography played less a factor than historic tradition and balance of power. Also, it would greatly facilitate the addition of future teams should conference expansion once again arise. With sixteen or more teams, we absolutely couldn't be having the conversation of having a 10-game schedule. A quick-fix like this works down the road, too.
But maybe the NCAA likes the idea of round-robin play within the division, thinking we're more like the NFL and that playing everybody else is a good thing. Then fine. Since you must have two divisions, simply have some teams switch from side to side each season, kinda like rotating tires. Or more like playing musical conferences. Strictly speaking, I think that such procedure would conform to the letter of the rules. If it didn't, we might need a consult out of Tuscaloosa.
And although such a scenario could be a scheduling bitch, preserving centuries and decades-old rivalries through the clever manipulation of the rules is exactly something that might make Saint Nick smile.