SEC tailgaters might as well cool their coolers for a while longer. There will be football this fall in the world's greatest conference, we just don't know exactly when and in what order those SEC games will be played.
|As it stands now, the last six SEC opponents of Nick Saban's Tide are coming off byes. (US Presswire)|
In addition, since 2007, Alabama has played more than three times the "rested" opponents than any SEC school according to research done by the Tuscaloosa News. Including the 2010 schedule, Alabama is first, playing 16 such games followed by LSU with five.
That was perceived to be an unfair advantage for the SEC field against Alabama, which will have a hard enough time defending its 2009 national championship. The surprise is that the rest of the conference agreed. At the urging of 'Bama AD Mal Moore, SEC athletic directors in December decided to attempt to rectify the situation.
"They're certainly concerned that if they were in Alabama's situation they would ask for the same thing," said Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner in charge of scheduling.
He called the current situation a result of "unintended consequences." Womack also expects a scheduling principle to be put in place by 2012 that would limit rested opponents to three on any individual schedule.
For now, the 2010 fixes might involve moving only one or two games, but the changes won't come quick. The puzzle might not be solved until May, according to Womack. While SEC schools are publishing their individual schedules on their own, the SEC has not announced an official league-wide schedule.
One conference official said those individual schedules you see are "tentative and subject to change." That is potentially a big deal to the ultra-loyal fans of a conference where a football road trip typically isn't a spur-of-the-moment thing. Friends, families and fans make weekends out of seeing their favorite team, sometimes planning years in advance.
As the schedule stands now, Alabama's last six conference opponents will be coming off byes. Beginning on Oct. 9, those six are South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. Alabama has a bye itself on Oct. 30 prior to the Nov. 6 game at LSU. Prior to taking on Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 26, 'Bama plays I-AA Georgia State on Nov. 20.
Last season, Alabama played three conference foes coming off byes -- Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn -- all after Oct. 17 and none in consecutive games. 'Bama had a bye prior to the LSU game on Nov. 7.
Its foe in the 2009 SEC championship game, Florida, played one conference team coming off a bye -- Georgia.
Based on the News' research, then, it can be argued that a large portion of Alabama's conference opponents in the last four years have intentionally scheduled a bye week before playing the Tide. Just a snapshot here but if the 2010 schedule remains the same, Auburn will be playing Alabama coming off a bye for the fourth consecutive season. Only once in that time (2008) has 'Bama also had a bye week prior to the Iron Bowl.
The conflict more or less evolved during the SEC's current 10-year scheduling rotation which has two more years to run. Each season, an SEC team plays its five division opponents, one permanent rival from the opposite division and two rotating opponents. Over a 10-year period, each team will play every conference member at least four times and make at least two visits to every SEC stadium.
The conference schedules SEC games. Traditional games like Florida-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Alabama are more or less locked in on the SEC schedule. Then schools fill in their four non-conference games. Depending on the playing calendar in any given year, there are five or six openings for those four games. It varies on how far in advance schools schedule those non-conference games.
Coming Off a Bye Week
|Oct. 9||at South Carolina|
|Oct. 23||at Tennessee|
|Nov. 6||at LSU|
|Nov. 13||Mississippi State|
"I think all that any of us can ask is to be treated fairly, and our discussions with the commissioner and his staff have been forthright and productive ...," Moore said. "Each school fills its non-conference dates in different ways, so there are factors involved that are beyond the control of the conference office and the schools."
That doesn't prevent the rise of conspiracy theories: For example, since 1996, Tennessee has had a bye week 10 times before facing Alabama -- and 'Bama is 3-7 in those games.
That's quite a conspiracy theory considering that it took years for these unintended consequences to evolve. It would take a level of intelligence on the level of a super computer to do it intentionally over a 14-year period. Even that potential topic for talk-show goobs should be shot down. The SEC doesn't use a computer in football scheduling but does use one in basketball.
Ah, but this is the SEC where the news cycle never ends. Complicating matters right now is that some non-conference opponents might be asked to move games at this late date. If that happens, then there could be a "domino effect", according to Womack, that could affect those opponents' opponents.
And there isn't much wriggle room. The calendar to play 12 games for the SEC is only 13 weeks this season. Conferences that don't play a championship game have a 14-week calendar available.
Pocket those pocket schedules, dear SEC fan. No need to spread mustard or blankets for a while. Your beloved conference has some paper to shuffle.