SEC Realignment: The Double Switch
SEC Realignment: What Are We Waiting For?
Pat Dye’s recent comments about SEC conference realignment on the Paul Finebaum Show has restarted a recurring conversation around the league. Most people recognize the need to move Missouri to the SEC West. Unfortunately, moving Missouri requires moving an SEC West team to the East. This has been the sticking point ever since Missouri joined the SEC almost five years.
The biggest contention is with Alabama’s two biggest rivals: Auburn and Tennessee. From a geographic perspective, it makes sense to move Auburn to the East. But that forces the end of the annual game between either Auburn or Tennessee and Alabama. None of the three schools are willing to end those two rivalry games. So the SEC has continued to table the realignment discussion.
It’s also likely that the league hasn’t realigned schools in anticipation of further realignment across college football. If the Power 5 schools do go to a four-conferences-of-sixteen-teams format, the SEC will certainly be forced to realign at that point. There are numerous possibilities, but with television revenue and network contracts seemingly stabilizing, so too is landscape for major college football.
SEC Realignment: The Double Switch
So with a period of conference stabilization seemingly setting in, Dye is right to restart the realignment discussion in the SEC. Where he — and many others — miss the point is by focusing on realigning just one team.
The best option for the conference is to realign two teams to each Division. In order to be properly aligned for geography, history, and competitive balance, the SEC should move Missouri and Vanderbilt to the SEC West and move Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East.
the SEC should move Missouri and Vanderbilt to the SEC West and move Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East.
As far as geography is concerned, this makes perfect sense. It makes sense for both for the teams concerned and for the league as a whole.
The Four Teams
For Missouri, they are obviously already geographically aligned with the West. Auburn, too, is geographically aligned with the East, already being more eastern than Vanderbilt by quite a bit. Missouri and Auburn would have to travel far less under this format. The two Tigers would travel 139 less miles (Missouri) and 126 less miles (Auburn) for intra-divisional opponents in this proposed format. That saves 265 miles for those two teams.
For Alabama, it’s really a push geographically. The difference between total miles between the current alignment and this proposed alignment for Alabama is only 26 miles. That is, the combined distance between the University of Alabama and the other six current SEC West schools is only 26 less miles that than total distance between the University and the other six schools in this proposed realignment.
Vanderbilt is the only significant loser, as far as geography is concerned, in this format. The Commodores would add 110 more miles to their intra-divisional distances under the new format.
The league as whole would travel 129 less miles for intra-divisional contests under this proposed alignment. Here are the overall totals:
Total miles between SEC Member Institutions under current and proposed alignment.Currently, the single biggest mileage difference between two divisional schools is 1,005 miles between Florida and Missouri. Under the new format, the single biggest mileage difference would be 760 miles between Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Moreover, the current alignment is almost as much North-South as it is East-West. Here is what the SEC currently looks like on a map:
You can see that there are four “East” teams that are north of every “West” team and one “East” team that is south of every “West” team. This again creates a geographic imbalance.
Under the proposed structure, the map looks much more balanced.
Clearly, the double switch of Missouri and Vanderbilt for Alabama and Auburn makes sense geographically.
The proposed double switch realignment also keeps all key rivalries intact. Moving Alabama and Auburn ensures that Alabama-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee maintains a yearly game. It also ensures the continuation of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, the Auburn-Georgia game. It allows for Auburn to resume yearly match-ups with Florida. The Auburn-Florida game has been played 83 times since 1912.
Again, assuming that the conference maintains one yearly rivalry cross-over game, and assuming that Tennessee-Vanderbilt and Alabama-LSU are two of those games, the two oldest and most significant rivalries lost in this proposed alignment would be the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game, played 89 times since 1896 and the Alabama-Mississippi game, played 64 times since 1894. While those are two significant rivalries, they are not historically marquee match-ups or their teams’ biggest rivals.
Yet another area where this realignment benefits the SEC is with competitive balance. While competitive balance is something that goes in cycles, the proposed realignment creates a short-term solution that lays a historical foundation for future balance.
Over the last decade, the SEC West has been arguably the best division in college football. Pollsters have ranked Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, and Mississippi State number one at one point over the last several years. Texas A&M and Arkansas have also had significant success out of conference, in bowls, and against the SEC East. The SEC East, on the other hand, has struggled in that same period. Since Urban Meyer left Florida and Derek Dooley destroyed Tennessee, the East division has played an out of tune second fiddle to their western counterparts.
Moving Missouri and Vanderbilt to the West not only helps geographically, but it balances that division out. More importantly, adding Alabama and Auburn to the East gives it perennial powers to strengthen that division. The proposed realignment creates five teams in the each division that have either had historical success or recent (past decade) success and two teams each that are perennial .500 teams or worse.
It Just Makes Sense
So Pat Dye was half right. Auburn should move to the SEC East as Missouri heads to the SEC West. But along with that move, Alabama and Vanderbilt should change divisions as well. It makes sense geographically, it makes sense with rivalries, and it makes sense from a competitive balance stand point. If it just means more, then shouldn’t it just make sense as well?
No one really knows why Missouri is still in the SEC East. To protect a key rivalry? Awaiting the implosion of the Big 12? Whatever the reason, the time is now to pull a double switch and realign the Southeastern Conference.