SEC cross-division scheduling format proposal

By Eric Taylor -

About this time every SEC football season, we begin to hear grumblings from the SEC fan bases who feel their team had to play the toughest cross-division teams while everyone else played the cellar dwellers.

The loudest grumblings of the 2018 season are coming from Athens, Georgia. They may not be wrong and they certainly are not the first, or last. Actually, Kentucky was screaming the loudest the previous week when they had to travel to College Station and lost to Texas A&M.

The SEC East-West cross-division scheduling format has been a source of contention since the beginning of divisional play in 1992. So, rather than grumble, some of us at FBSchedules (me) decided a solution to the problem was much more productive than grumbling.

SEC Cross-Division Scheduling Format Proposal 

There is no perfect scheduling format, but I feel this is the one that will settle a myriad of problems in the SEC. There will always be a school administration and fan base (or six) that feel they have the toughest cross-division draw. This format would remove the subjective nature of those arguments by instituting a cross-division schedule based on where your school finishes in the previous season’s division standings.

Let’s consider two scenarios. The first will be with the current eight-game conference schedule. The second will be if (when) the SEC moves to a nine-game conference schedule.

If the SEC keeps an eight-game schedule

  • For the sake of serving the rich history and tradition of the conference, each team will keeps its current permanent cross-division rival.
  • The second cross-division game will be determined based on where each team finishes in the previous season’s division standings. Home field will rotate between division each year. Whether home field will coincide with home field for the SEC Championship Game is moot.
    • SEC East No. 1 vs. SEC West No. 2
    • SEC West No. 1 vs. SEC East No. 2
    • SEC East No. 3 vs. SEC West No. 4
    • SEC West No. 3 vs. SEC East No. 4
    • SEC East No. 5 vs. SEC West No. 6
    • SEC West No. 5 vs. SEC East No. 6
    • SEC East No. 7 vs. SEC West No. 7
  • If the format leads to a repeat of a permanent rival game, then one permanent rival will rotate with a team in the matchup directly below.
    • Example: If SEC East No. 3 vs. SEC West No. 4 matches two permanent rivals that already play each other, the SEC East and West No. 3 will rotate so that SEC East No. 3 would play SEC West No. 3 and SEC East No. 4 would play SEC West No. 4.
  • The primary reason for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 format rather than No. 1 vs. No. 1 is to avoid a rematch of the previous year’s SEC Championship Game. There’s no reason to punish the No. 1 seeds by forcing them to play one another, but an improved strength of schedule is important.
  • An East No. 1 vs. West No. 2 (and vice-versa) demonstrates to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that the conference is at least making an effort to have the best teams competing against one another to determine the truest conference champion possible.

If (when) the SEC moves to a nine-game conference schedule

  • The first two bullets in the eight-game conference schedule scenario would apply in this scenario as well. The nine-game scenario allows the SEC to add a third cross-division game to the schedule.
  • The third cross-division game should, for the most part, provide the No. 1 seeds with an advantage to being the No. 1 seed. The higher seeds will be the home team. This is an opportunity for lower seeded teams that are trying to make a run to the top tier of the SEC. What better way to get the attention of the nation than a big road win in the conference?
    • SEC East No. 1 vs. SEC West No. 7
    • SEC West No. 1 vs. SEC East No. 7
    • SEC East No. 2 vs. SEC West No. 6
    • SEC West No. 2 vs. SEC East No. 6
    • SEC East No. 3 vs. SEC West No. 5
    • SEC West No. 3 vs. SEC East No. 5
    • SEC East No. 4 vs. SEC West No. 4 (at home field of team with best 2017 conference record)

How would 2018’s cross-division schedule have looked under this system?

  • (E1) Georgia vs. (W2) Alabama
  • (W1) Auburn vs. (E2) South Carolina
  • (E3) Missouri vs. (W4) Mississippi State
  • (W3) LSU vs. (E4) Kentucky
  • (E5) Florida vs. (W6) Ole Miss
  • (W5) Texas A&M vs. (E6) Vanderbilt
  • (E7) Tennessee vs. (W7) Arkansas

How would it look with a nine-game conference schedule?

It would be a huge mess after the No. 1 vs. No. 7 and No. 2 vs. No. 6 games are determined. There are too many rematches of permanent cross-division rivals or rematches from the proposed eight-game conference schedule format.

Therefore, this proposal only works under the current eight-game conference schedule.

Would this be better than the current system? Worse? No different? Hit me with your ideas in the comments section below.

Eric Taylor is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @EricFromSpfld or contact him via email at [email protected].  Be sure to Like the Facebook page  for the latest on the 2018 SEC Football Predictions as well as all the things.

Comments (17)

I would suggest that division winners are determined by divisional record. Cross-divisional games would not count to determining the division winners. I would suggest this for all conferences with multiple divisions. There is no reason that Florida, Georgia and Kentucky should have their games versus LSU, Auburn and A&M affect the SEC East division standings.

The same is true for Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa having games versus Ohio St, Michigan and Penn St affect who is the Big Ten West champion.

How about just eliminate divisions as the ACC proposed a couple years back.

Give everyone 3 permanent opponents based on history/geography (Tenn vs Vandy, Ky, & Bama for example). Then with other 10 teams, play 5 teams home & home, then other 5 teams h&h. You play everyone twice in 4 years, once at home.

Top 2 teams play in championship game. True, some fans will fuss that their schedule is harder than someone else. But unless they play 13 conf games a year, there will always be some imbalance.

Koewee your plan makes perfect sense. Nate, DAMN, conference games are not exhibitions. They are conference games!

@Gator Hypothetical, based on made up future schedule;

Wisconsin goes 7-2 in conference with wins Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Penn St (East). Loses Ohio St (East) and Michigan St (East).

Iowa goes 8-1 in conference with wins: Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana (East), Rutgers (East) and Maryland (East). Lose Wisconsin.

Who is the best team in the Big Ten West, Iowa or Wisconsin?

Joel Klatt did a nice interview this AM on how the SEC schedules to win national championships vs the other conferences who do not do themselves any favors with loading up their top teams. What he said was 100% on the money!! Was on ESPNU Radio if you want to find it.

9 game conference schedule, you play the other 6 teams in your division yearly and the other 7 on a rotational basis. Throw out all of the record matching, because that is irrelevant year-to-year (see: 2015, 2016, 2017 Michigan State & Oregon)

When the Big 12 fractures, add WVU and ISU.
4 sectors.
N: ISU, Mizzou, UK, WVU
W: LSU, Ark, A&M, Ole Miss
S: MSU, Vandy, UA, UT
E: AU, UGa, UF, SC
Play 3 in your sector, all 4 in a rotating sector, plus one trafditional rival (and when that overlaps, draw team remaining from most faced or longest since faced).
Sectors rotate each year to create divisions:
Year 1: SE and NW
2: SW and NE
3: N-S and E-W

I like it but SEC should add OU and Oklahoma State.

NW: OU, OK State, Mizzou,Ark
SW: LSU, A&M, Ole Miss, Miss State
Central: Auburn, Vandy, UA, UT
East: UK, UGa, UF, SC

Let’s make the divisions geographically correct, first:

East (Permanent Crossover)

Florida (LSU)
Georgia (Missouri)
Kentucky (Mississippi State)
South Carolina (Arkansas)
Tennessee (Vanderbilt)
Auburn (Ole Miss)
Alabama (Texas A&M)


LSU (Florida)
Missouri (Georgia)
Mississippi State (Kentucky)
Arkansas (South Carolina)
Vanderbilt (Tennessee)
Ole Miss (Auburn)
Texas A&M (Alabama)

Geographically, Vanderbilt is farther East than Alabama.

East (Permanent Crossover)

Florida (LSU)
Georgia (Missouri)
Kentucky (Mississippi State)
South Carolina (Arkansas)
Tennessee (Texas A&M)
Auburn (Alabama)
Vanderbilt (Ole Miss)


LSU (Florida)
Missouri (Georgia)
Mississippi State (Kentucky)
Arkansas (South Carolina)
Ole Miss (Vanderbilt)
Texas A&M (Tennessee)
Alabama (Auburn)

Tennessee should not play Alabama every year. It is not a rivalry any longer no matter what the fans of which I am one say Losing the last 12 in a row is not a rivalry especially when some of the games are not even close. I know Tennessee and Alabama wants to keep it but that is plain stupid if they both win their division they will play then

as long as Alabama gets Tennessee every year you will have a structural benefit for Alabama year in and year out. this year lsu played Georgia and Florida in cross-division games while Alabama had Tennessee and Missouri. every year lsu plays florida while Alabama plays Tennessee who haven’t been relevant in almost 20 years.

While this plan seems to make sense on the surface, it would box the schedule makers in too much both in terms of time, flexibility to schedule around contracted non-conference games and equity in home conference games (4 home and 4 away under an 8-game league schedule; 5 home in alternate years under a 9-game league schedule).

Meh. The best solution batted around since A&M and Missouri jumped aboard is by far the “Roommate Switch” (or “pods”) solution: play 3 permanent rivals and rotate through the other 10 twice every 4 years.

The other great solution mentioned already by another poster is discounting cross-divisional games when determining division champs. The rarely mentioned side-benefit is that this frees up cross-division scheduling: ADs have 2 open cross-division slots and can either fill these themselves or let the league do so on a “least recent” basis.

Really, the SEC, ACC (also at 8 conference games), and Big 12 (poor OOC games, currently) should enter into a scheduling alliance where they play 6 permanent(/division) rivals, can schedule up to 2 more across the alliance (permanent or one-off), and then have at least 1 determined by conference execs. Effectively this replaces the rotating cross-division games (and the permanent yet unwanted cross-division games) with games that appeal to wider audiences (think Texas-A&M, Missouri-Kansas, WVU-VT/Pitt, Alabama-Clemson, etc.)

^Check the link in my name for an example