Florida athletic director willing to discuss SEC ending cross-division rivalry games

By Adam Silverstein
January 18, 2019
Florida athletic director willing to discuss SEC ending cross-division rivalry games

Image Credit: UAA / @GatorsFB

As discussion rages over College Football Playoff expansion and the different scheduling procedures of the Power Five, it is frequently brought up that the SEC is one of two conferences (ACC) that plays eight league games as opposed to nine like some of its peers. Asked by the Gainesville Sun whether he foresees the SEC expanding its league slate, Florida Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin explained that it is simply not something being discussed at this time.

“Not on the nine games. Since the playoffs started, of the 20 playoff spots, 11 have been filled by teams that play eight conference games. That’s been a pretty good model,” Stricklin said as part of a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with the paper.

While adding a conference game appears to be off the table for the SEC, Stricklin did admit that the league is suffering from a lack of variety in its scheduling. Because each SEC team plays six divisional games and two cross-divisional games — one permanent against a predetermined rival — seven of the eight league games played each year are the same.

In the case of the Florida Gators, they play Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt every year from the SEC East and LSU every year from the SEC West. That means Florida plays Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M just once every six years — and hosts those teams once every 12 years.

Most if not all Gators will go their entire careers without playing every team in the SEC at least once.

“We need to find a way as a league to provide more variety in our SEC schedule. It goes back to … creating more value and interest in what you’re asking your season ticket holders to support,” Stricklin explained. “I’m open for suggestions, but in a two-year period with eight home conference games every two years, seven of those eight are the same. There needs to be more rotation.”

The only option the SEC has to provide more variety while remaining at eight league games is to end permanent cross-division rivalries, something LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has advocated for years.

Whereas Stricklin is interested in discussing the potential of such a change to increase value and variety of opponent, Alleva’s prior complaints mostly centered around the fact that UF and LSU are generally two of the better teams in the league each year; while they have SEC West rivals like Ole Miss or Texas A&M who get to face Vanderbilt and South Carolina, respectively, each year.

“Some annual games would have to go away,” said Stricklin in regards to enacting a change, “but there are some other great games that will come on the schedule. Auburn-Florida is a good example. We used to play every year.”

The Gators and Tigers, making up one of the SEC’s historically great rivalries, played annually until 2002 but have squared off just three times in the last 16 years. Florida will host Auburn on Oct. 5, 2019; their last meeting was in 2011, and UF has not hosted AU since 2007.

“Our league has so many great brands, [so] you’re going to pick up great games,” Stricklin continued. “I think it’s going to be more compelling. You probably [have to] get rid of the permanent [opponents]. I’m in favor of having the conversation. I don’t know what my colleagues think.

“I’m sensitive to the tradition piece, but we have to do what’s best for the whole league, and I don’t think we can walk on eggshells around one or two games. You think about players who are here four or five years and never see some teams.”

Florida will host Alabama in 2021 after a 10-year lapse; it will also host Arkansas in 2023 (10 years) and Mississippi State in 2025 (15 years). UF will play at Auburn in 2024 (13-year gap), Ole Miss in 2020 (13 years) and Texas A&M in 2022 (10 years).

Moving to nine games — six divisional opponents, one permanent cross-division rival and two rotational cross-divisional opponents – would preserve rivalries and add the value Stricklin is discussing, but it would come at a price. Teams like Florida (Florida State), Georgia (Georgia Tech) and South Carolina (Clemson) would have to consider annual nonconference rivalry games, and the entire conference would have to discuss no longer playing in prominent nonconference kickoff weekend games.

There is no clear option ahead for the SEC, but the Gators’ athletic director is at least willing to discuss the possibilities, which has not necessarily been the case with previous administrations.


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