And to think the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings were once a platform for Steve Spurrier to playfully needle Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer about the Volunteers being picked as the team to beat in the various preseason football magazines.
For a second consecutive year, Spurrier has a divisive agenda heading into the four-day gathering in Destin, Fla., that begins Tuesday. The eighth-year South Carolina coach stirred last year's meetings with the idea of coaches paying players $300 a game, and his latest proposal is that only games within each division should be used in determining which teams play for the league championship.
South Carolina swept its five East Division foes last season but lost to Auburn and Arkansas, while Georgia's loss to the Gamecocks was its only blemish in a 7-1 league record.
"What it does is it takes out the scheduling as far as who determines the winners of the divisions," Spurrier said. "Last year, for example, Tennessee and Florida both played Alabama and LSU, obviously two of the best teams in the country, and us and Georgia did not play them. So obviously us or Georgia were probably going to win the division.
"We had the same schedule as Georgia except for one game -- they got to play Ole Miss and we played Arkansas."
Spurrier publicly introduced the concept last month, and LSU coach Les Miles said three weeks ago that he favored the idea. Alabama's Nick Saban is not in support due to the likelihood it would lessen cross-divisional matchups such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
"We have a rotation, and we have to go through it," Saban said. "The guys you play on the other side are important to our fans. There is a lot of tradition, and I don't think minimizing those games would be in the best interest of our league.
"I certainly understand why he would recommend that. Last year, there was a circumstance where LSU, Alabama and Arkansas were 1, 2 and 3 in the West and in the country."
League commissioner Mike Slive also isn't wanting to implement a model in which some games are more valuable than others. An SEC football game should be an SEC football game, he has said.
Football scheduling formats are very much on the agenda this week, as the 14-team league is expected to release an eight-game conference model that will run for a 12-year cycle beginning in 2013. Athletic directors have agreed that each school will play the six teams within its division, a permanent opponent from the other division and one rotating foe from the opposite division.
The last piece to the puzzle will be whether the rotating foe from the other side will alternate every year or two years.
"Philosophically, the options deal with how often you will be seeing teams at home," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. "Do we schedule it home-and-away, or do we have a singular opponent changing every year? Athletic directors have studied both formats."
Bloom added that scheduling formats in basketball could be released this week as well.
Spurrier's proposal is not on the agenda specifically, according to Bloom, and such a move for that item would have to come from the coaches. Bloom said there has not been a lot of discussion about it among the athletic directors.
Last year's desire by Spurrier to provide $300 a game to players on the 70-man travel roster was supported by Saban and Miles, as well as Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Florida's Will Muschamp. Slive called it a "generous gesture" but preferred talking about ideas that had a legitimate chance of becoming reality.
Having only division games determine the SEC football championship would have aided Spurrier last year but hurt him in 1992, when his Gators challenged undefeated Alabama in the inaugural title game. Florida and Tennessee finished 4-1 against East opposition in '92, but the Volunteers won the head-to-head meeting, 31-14, in Knoxville.
Who knows how it would have worked in '97?
Peyton Manning quarterbacked Tennessee to a 7-1 league record that season, surpassing the 6-2 marks of Florida and Georgia. All three were 4-1 in the division and 1-1 against each other, and that was before the BCS rankings, which were used to break a three-way East tie in 2003.
"This just eliminates scheduling as maybe who the champion of the division is," Spurrier said. "I think it's a good idea, and we'll see how it works out."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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