SEC Scheduling: What if future cross-division opponents are added in 2020?

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When the Big Ten announced it was going to conference-only play three weeks ago, we looked at a balanced version of a 10-game SEC schedule if the league elected to move in the same direction. Like the ACC’s version, something like that would involve some willingness to get creative from the league office, to insert themselves in the interests of fairness and balance. That schedule we put together featured no SEC West teams playing both Florida and Georgia, and every SEC East team who played Alabama also playing Arkansas.

Yesterday Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reported the SEC was indeed looking at a 10-game league schedule, and that the extra two games would come instead from the pre-existing rotation opponents from 2021 and 2022:

So this is a straightforward solution, and it involves no additional decision making from anyone. But how fair is it?

For Tennessee, it’s one of several balanced options. Because the Vols were already playing the presumptive best and worst teams in the SEC West, any combination of one of the Mississippi schools and one of Auburn, LSU, or Texas A&M would’ve been the most fair way to add to Tennessee’s slate. Here the Vols get Ole Miss in Knoxville and LSU in Baton Rouge, giving Tennessee one of the most even slates in the league.

The biggest news for Tennessee: now Florida and Georgia both have to play Alabama. So after a dozen or so years of complaining about it, in 2020 the Vols have zero disadvantage from playing the Crimson Tide in comparison to their SEC East rivals. In fact, consider the balance or lack thereof here:

  • Florida: LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M
  • Georgia: Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State
  • Tennessee: Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss

The Gators had a huge advantage coming into this season with both Georgia and Tennessee playing Alabama. Now? Not only do the Gators pick up the Tide, they get Texas A&M as well. Florida plays three SEC West contenders; the Vols and Dawgs just two.

Also, potential advantage Kentucky:

  • Kentucky: Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss

…who doesn’t face Alabama at all and still gets both Mississippi schools. This arrangement is a big boost to the Cats.

In our post three weeks ago, we used the 2020 SP+ projections to put each division in four tiers, and sought to create a schedule with the most balance across the board. In what we came up with, every team’s cross-divisional opponents had a total of nine or ten tier points. If the league just sticks with the future rotations, the tier points would look like this:

  • Florida: LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M (8 tier points)
  • Georgia: Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State (10)
  • Kentucky: Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss (10)
  • South Carolina: Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas (10)
  • Tennessee: Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss (10)
  • Vanderbilt: Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State (9)
  • Alabama: Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Vanderbilt (8 tier points)
  • Arkansas: Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina (9)
  • Auburn: Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri (9)
  • LSU: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky (8)
  • Ole Miss: Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky (9)
  • Mississippi State: Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Georgia (10)
  • Texas A&M: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Florida (11)

The winners in this setup: Kentucky to some degree, but look at Texas A&M: no Georgia, no Tennessee, no Kentucky. Meanwhile Alabama is easily the biggest loser here – and hey, if I’m a Bammer, maybe I’m saying screw all this, we’ll beat everybody! – but the difference between their cross-divisional schedule and Texas A&M’s is huge. And Florida, as we’ve discussed, went from one of the East’s easiest slates to its most difficult.

If the SEC does go this route, it’s more simple but less fair.

But not to Tennessee.

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9 months ago

Couldn’t be happier that ‘Bama and Gators get tougher schedules either way. It seems the Vols have been running the gauntlet every year. Just hope we can get this season started on the 26th… “every game counts”. Go Vols!