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How would a 3-6-6 SEC schedule work?

When we do away with divisions.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Mississippi State v Texas Tech Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

With the recent news that the NCAA is planning to scrap its guidelines for conference championship games — in other words, not requiring a conference to play a divisional format to hold a championship game (which they already relaxed for conferences that have fewer than 12 teams, i.e. the Big (sic) 12 (sic), but apparently are getting rid of for all conferences), the rumor mill has started that the SEC will soon be rid of its divisional format that’s existed since 1992 and will simply play a single-division schedule.

How that will be formatted is up for debate. One idea is to keep the schedule at eight games and give each team one permanent rival who’s on the schedule every year, but that runs into the obvious problem that at least a few teams have multiple opponents that they’d like to keep on the schedule annually — for instance, you’d obviously want to keep the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but then Georgia probably wants to keep the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry with Auburn going as well. The more likely proposal is what’s known as the 3-6-6 format: three permanent opponents, with six other opponents on the schedule annually, such that each team would play every other team in the conference at least twice in four years (of course, there will be 16 teams once Texas and Oklahoma join the league in a year to be determined.)

So how would the three permanent opponents work? Here’s my idea. Aside from preserving the obvious rivalry games (the soon-to-be-four intrastate rivalries, the WLOCP, the Third Saturday in October, Red River, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry), my goal was to keep some semblance of geographical proximity, while also at least making an attempt to have some balance — though this gets to be difficult for some schools, as we’ll see.

Permanent Opponents

Team Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Team Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
Alabama Auburn Mississippi State Tennessee
Arkansas Missouri Oklahoma Texas A&M
Auburn Alabama Florida Georgia
Florida Auburn Georgia South Carolina
Georgia Auburn Florida South Carolina
Kentucky South Carolina Tennessee Vanderbilt
LSU Mississippi State Ole Miss Texas A&M
Mississippi State Alabama LSU Ole Miss
Missouri Arkansas Oklahoma Vanderbilt
Oklahoma Arkansas Missouri Texas
Ole Miss LSU Mississippi State Texas
South Carolina Florida Georgia Kentucky
Tennessee Alabama Kentucky Vanderbilt
Texas Oklahoma Ole Miss Texas A&M
Texas A&M Arkansas LSU Texas
Vanderbilt Kentucky Missouri Tennessee

So, yeah: somebody will inevitably complain about Tennessee getting both Kentucky and Vanderbilt on its schedule annually; but these are also an in-state rival and the team that’s been on its schedule more than any other, historically. And they also get Alabama every year, which has been an automatic loss since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.

Now, some of these are going to look a little odd, and a lot of that can be explained by, well, some of the new schools don’t really have many historical rivals in the league. That’s especially true of Missouri, who has some history with Oklahoma from their Big 8 days and also has developed something of a rivalry with Arkansas since joining the league... but after that? Sure, they were in the Big 12 with Texas and Texas A&M for a while, but they’ve played those two 24 and 18 times, respectively, so there’s not a ton of history with either one, and anyway both Texas and Texas A&M have trouble fitting Missouri on the schedule. So Missouri gets Vanderbilt. (And Vanderbilt gets Missouri, something that I am positive that Anchor of Gold commenters will accept.)

(Also, what the hell is Ole Miss-Texas doing being a permanent rivalry game? I could have made Texas-LSU permanent, but that would give Texas the trio of LSU, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M, which seems a little extreme. And LSU apparently wants to keep the Mississippi schools on its schedule. That latter fact is also why no Alabama-LSU; one thing I wasn’t particularly trying to do was preserve the create-a-rivalry games that have been an artifact of the SEC’s divisional structure. Remember, there was a time when Florida-Tennessee was a big deal just because those two happened to be the dominant teams in the East.)

And then there’s Auburn. Auburn insists on having Alabama and Georgia as rivals (which, fair point, they are), but when it came down to giving them a third permanent opponent... well, reviving Auburn’s dormant rivalry with Florida was the best solution once I’d looked around at all the other rivalries that had to be preserved and given some of the teams with fewer “rivalry” games nearby opponents that made sense.