With the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992, the SEC became the first FBS conference to institute divisions. They did so after becoming the first conference to create a conference championship game. It has been 25 years since that first SEC championship game was played, and throughout that time we have witnessed both the teams from the SEC East, and the teams from the SEC West dominate teams from the other division.
In much of the late 1990s - early 2000s, the SEC East reigned as the superior division of the conference. Florida and Tennessee were both juggernauts during the entire period under head coaches Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer, and Georgia developed into one under new head coach Mark Richt. Even South Carolina was a formidable opponent during the era under Coach Lou Holtz (beating Alabama in 2001, finishing 13th in the final AP Poll).
Flashing forward to recent years, the SEC West has now become the dominant division. Dating back to 2011, SEC West teams have a combined 59-26 record versus SEC East teams, including going 12-2 last season. Thus far in 2016, the SEC West is 10-1 versus the SEC East, with the East’s lone win against the West coming as a result of a last second field goal that propelled Kentucky over Mississippi State.
I have asked myself numerous times throughout this 2016 season, “What if *insert SEC West team* was able to play in the East? They would probably run through that division with ease.” Fresh off the Arkansas Razorbacks (currently 5th in the SEC West standings) beating down the SEC East leading Florida Gators 31-10, SEC officials in Birmingham should really begin to ask the question: Is it time to scrap divisions, and just matchup the conference’s top two teams in Atlanta for the title game?
The SEC made this decision in basketball a few years back as a result of the East being so much more competitive than the West, and moved to a round-robin regular season conference schedule. I understand it’s not quite that simple in football because of the want-to to preserve the SEC’s historic rivalry games, but there’s a solution to that.
The SEC could evaluate what each school’s top three rivalries were, and have those three teams stay on the schedule every year (for example: Tennessee could keep Alabama, Florida, and Vanderbilt on their schedule every year, and Alabama with Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee); then the other five SEC games on the schedule would rotate each season. Not only would this maintain and respect the historical importance of the rivalries that made the SEC great, it would also allow each SEC team (and their incredible, passionate fan bases) the opportunity to play against every single SEC team within a 3-4 year span (instead of only having one different SEC team rotate on and off the schedule each season). More importantly than that, it would reward us with a more competitive SEC Championship Game, between a more accurate representation of the SEC’s top two teams.
If the SEC had this format in place in previous years, it would have prevented scenarios like Alabama-LSU in 2011, when both teams (in a very unpopular matchup) wound up rematching with each other in the BCS National Championship Game. If the SEC did not have divisions, the Tide and Tigers would have instead re-matched in the SEC Championship Game (in a de facto national championship play-in game). Or in 2001, the Florida Gators would have gotten a chance at redemption versus the Tennessee Vols, as every other team in the conference finished with three of more losses in SEC play that season.
These are just two examples, and we are perhaps seeing a similar instance play out this season, with three SEC West teams with records equal to or better than every SEC East team. The evidence is there, and it is time for Commissioner Greg Sankey and the rest of the SEC officials to begin considering this as the future of SEC football.
Brooks Carter is a Co-Host of 3 Point Stance, covers Friday Night Football, and is a sports writer for WRCB-TV. You can follow him on Twitter @BrooksACarter