Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The official line from the SEC is that nothing happened in last week's conference scheduling meetings, and that the league is still considering all available options as it tries to solve its 14-teams-in-an-eight-game-slate schedule dilemma.
But South Carolina president Harris Pastides wandered well away from that line Saturday, telling The State newspaper and other outlets that the league had agreed to continue with permanent cross-division rivalry games--and that he will cast his vote for his Gamecocks to break off their 19-year arrangement with Arkansas.
According to Pastides, the rest of the SEC's athletic directors and presidents were committed to finalizing the new cross-divisional games when he elected to abstain, saying it was too soon for him to commit to South Carolina adopting a new annual series with Texas A&M. The Gamecocks' former West division partners, the Razorbacks, would pick up more geographically-friendly Missouri.
“I said, ‘Hold on a second. That’s a big decision, and I’d like to hear what the fans think about that,’" Pastides said. "They were kind of motivated to get it done and move on, and I said, ‘I think it’s premature. I need to go back to Columbia and see what people think about that.’ ”
According to State reporter Andy Shain, Mike Slive's response to Pastides's pronouncement was "Well good for him."
"Nothing is set yet," Slive emphasized.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity echoed Pastides' comments in a discussion with the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. McGarity had previously said his Bulldogs' rivalry with Auburn -- as its nickname goes, the "Deep South's Oldest" -- could be in danger, but sounded much more positive Sunday.
"The tone of the conversations that everyone had sort of gave the impression that everyone had a sense, at least the majority had a sense, of liking the rivalry game with an opponent from the opposite division," McGarity said. "The tone led us to believe that this has a good opportunity of moving forward."
Pastides' method for discovering what "people think about that" in Columbia was to ask the State to poll readers on their website about the possibility of replacing the Razorbacks with the Aggies. Some 76 percent of respondents voted in favor of starting the new series with A&M.
That landslide was likely made possible by the Hogs' rampant recent success against the Gamecocks, Arkansas having won three in a row and five of the last six in the series. The Gamecocks' much tougher draw out of the SEC West (Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State to Georgia's Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss) was blamed by many -- and not without reason -- for the Bulldogs winning the 2011 East's trip to Atlanta despite the Gamecocks' win over the Dawgs in Athens.
“We have great respect for Arkansas, but I think it’s fair to say our fans never developed the same kind of passionate rivalry about playing Arkansas that maybe some other university did playing their Western Division rivalry,” Pastides said, confirming that he would vote in accordance with the fans' wishes.
“I respect the fans," he said. "Fans are not often consulted on important decisions and ultimately administrators come and go and coaches come and go and athletic directors come and go and fans stay.”
According to Pastides, the final vote of the presidents rubber-stamping the new cross-divisional arrangements will come next week, following the SEC men's basketball tournament.
The proposal isn't in the clear just yet; Pastides himself admits "it's not a done deal," and he happens to be the same president who claimed the SEC had agreed to a nine-game schedule for 2012 last November. A permanent cross-division rival paired with an eight-game schedule would also result in teams playing other cross-divisional opponents only twice in 12 years.
So the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" and the "Third Saturday in October" aren't out of the woods yet. But they do, at least, seem safer than they were before last week's meetings--where the SEC may have made far more ground on the scheduling issue than they've let on.
Shain HT: Get the Picture.
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