Tennessee-Alabama annual rivalry at risk

Marvin Westwestwords

Commissioner Greg Sankey and the godfathers and directors who own and operate the Southeastern Conference are much smarter than me.

Their money machine generates millions and millions year after year. Some funds championship football teams and pays for giant trophies. Some goes for bigger and better facilities, fireworks, flashing lights and party decks.

Some ends up in the investment accounts of natural-born leaders, famous strategists and exciting motivators. You know their names – Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher, Josh Heupel, Lane Kiffin, Brian Kelly, even Mark Stoops.

If you could access their numbers, it would be enough to feed small countries.

Speaking of feeding, the proud pillars of the SEC are so accustomed to sips of champagne and the taste of steak and lobster they may never give a thought to how it all happened.

Down deep, most probably think they did it.

Some wouldn’t recognize the names of those who did, even if they read one of my books – Bryant and Neyland, Adkins and Namath, Lauricella and Majors, Bo Jackson, Billy Cannon, Reggie White, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Gain, Bob Johnson, Herschel Walker, all-Americans all, most with plaques gathering dust in the college football hall of fame.

Archie Manning’s boys keep his name in lights. Tim Tebow is still on TV. Steve DeLong is long gone and Steve Kiner is getting old. Steve Spurrier won’t ever go away.

I say all that to set the stage: The “SEC, SEC, SEC” has hatchet in hand and is seriously considering killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

In pursuit of money and more money, it would set aside historic rivalries, even Tennessee versus Alabama. Can you imagine the third Saturday in October coming and going without that game? You do believe, don’t you, that fans still care?

Scheduling is the root of this evil.

Too many coaches favor playing only eight conference games each year. Nine would lead to another loss for half of them. That might foil bowl eligibility and, heaven forbid, eliminate bowl bonuses.

Coaches favor fewer SEC games and more mismatches like Ball State and Austin Peay, better records, higher rankings and improved chances of gaining a spot in the 12-team national playoff beginning in 2025.

That will lead to real money.

The most likely schedule format is not complicated. Each team would have one permanent opponent and seven foes that rotate, one home game, one away every four years, everybody plays everybody – now and then.

Alabama and Auburn would be a permanent pair. There goes the Alabama-Tennessee annual game and Auburn-Georgia will be reduced by half.

Georgia and Florida would be a pair. Oops, that lops off the annual Tennessee-Florida adventure and means three years to get over each trip to the Swamp.

Ole Miss would logically pair up with Mississippi State. That would reduce the Rebels’ historic rivalry with LSU, made forever famous by Cannon’s Halloween evening run.

Texas will have a problem. Does it get Oklahoma or Texas A&M?

Tennessee would logically be paired with Vanderbilt. Joy, joy. They first played in 1892.

Kentucky would love to be the Vols’ favored foe. They go back to 1919. No chance.

Unless – well, the SEC could choose to play nine league games each year with a six-three format. No, probably not, that makes too much sense.

There is a strange sidelight to this dilemma. The very powerful Saban lobbied for nine SEC games until he discovered his three permanents might be LSU, Auburn and Tennessee. Too much, said Saint Nick, loud enough for the conference office to hear.

A coach could lose two or even three. No place in the playoff. Bad idea, very bad.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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