A NEW WRINKLE
If the SEC's cross-divisional rivalries are preserved on future football schedules, here is how they could look:
Texas A&M-So. Carolina
The Southeastern Conference may have a home for traditionalists after all.
SEC athletic directors lobbying to maintain permanent cross-divisional football matchups such as Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia feel better about their cause compared to a week ago. League ADs met last Wednesday in Nashville, the site of the SEC women's basketball tournament, to begin discussing football schedules for the 2013 season and beyond, and they will resume talks Wednesday in New Orleans, the site of the men's tournament.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity entered last week's meeting fearing the 14 ADs might vote 10-4 against preserving permanent cross-divisional rivalries due to matchups such as Arkansas-South Carolina and Kentucky-Mississippi State not having the historical punch of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
"I do feel better," McGarity said 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. The tone led us to believe that this has a good opportunity of moving forward."
SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom declined comment Sunday when asked about last week's discussions.
The league is having to juggle concerns about traditional rivalries and members playing too infrequently as it moves from 12 teams following the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. Missouri will compete in the East Division starting this year and Texas A&M in the West, and their arrivals instantly have altered the eight-game league format.
South Carolina president Harris Pastides told the ABC affiliate in Columbia on Saturday that he expects the permanent cross-divisional rivalries to remain but with a different look. The Gamecocks and Arkansas have met annually in football since 1992, when they gave the league a dozen members, but Pastides believes Arkansas will be replaced on his school's schedule by Texas A&M.
"Arkansas and Missouri have kind of buddied up because they are neighboring states and wanted to play each other," Pastides told station WOLO. "If all goes the way I think it will, we will probably be swapping Arkansas for Texas A&M."
Pastides said an announcement on the new cross-divisional relationships could occur within a couple of weeks.
South Carolina and Texas A&M have never played in football, while Arkansas and Missouri have met just five times despite the proximity. Their most recent matchup occurred after the 2007 season, when the Tigers humiliated the Razorbacks 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl.
SEC athletic directors are studying models with eight and nine conference games, McGarity said, as well as ways to rotate the one opponent from the opposite division should ADs elect to maintain the format that was put in place for the 2012 season. One presented option that appears to have some traction is to play a rotating team from the opposite division at home one year and another rotating team from the opposite division away from home the next year, or vice versa, and go down the line.
Such a cycle would allow a fifth-year senior at a school the chance to see 12 of the 13 other league teams.
"I think everything is still on the table," McGarity said. "We spent one full day on it, and I'm sure we'll spend one full day on it in New Orleans once everybody's had a week to think about it."