A couple of years ago, I made the argument that cross-divisional games should not be considered equal to divisional games when determining divisional standings, and I believe that as much today as I did then. It makes all the sense in the world that we don’t count out-of-conference games against Bethune-Cookman when determining SEC conference standings, but for some reason we lose our minds if someone suggests that ranking teams within a division should be determined primarily by reference to divisional results. Cross-divisional results should be relegated to tiebreaker considerations.
Part of the reason for this idea being so quickly dismissed is the color of the shirt I’m wearing and that the issue tends to come up when discussing Alabama’s current dominance over Tennessee in the Third Saturday in October rivalry.
But using divisional results first to determine divisional champions would have impacted the Tennessee Volunteers a grand total of zero times this decade. In fact, the only beneficiaries of this proposal in that time span would have been Ole Miss in 2015 and South Carolina in 2011.
Here’s the data:
The only seasons (since 2010) that would have had different SEC championship participants under this proposal are 2015 and 2011. In 2015, Alabama represented the SEC West with a 7-1 overall conference record. Ole Miss was second in the West with a 6-2 overall conference record. But both teams were 5-1 in the SEC West, and Ole Miss beat Alabama head-to-head. The Rebels merely had the misfortune of losing to SEC East champion Florida in the regular season, which gave them an additional regular-season conference loss and denied them an opportunity for a rematch with the Gators in the SEC Championship game.
In 2011, Georgia represented the SEC East with a 7-1 overall conference record, beating out a 6-2 South Carolina team for the division crown. But the Bulldogs were 4-1 in the SEC East while the Gamecocks were 5-0. South Carolina beat everybody in the East, including Georgia, but they lost to Arkansas and Auburn from the West. Georgia, meanwhile, skated by with a cross-divisional slate that featured the two worst teams from the West in Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
It may look and smell like sour grapes from a long-suffering Tennessee fan, but giving cross-divisional results the same weight as divisional results when ranking teams within a division makes no sense, no matter the messenger.