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A 16-Team SEC is the Death of Divisions

Nick Roush07/22/21

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Article written by:On3 imageNick Roush

@RoushKSR

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia
<small>Dale Zanine | USA TODAY Sports</small>

Dale Zanine | USA TODAY Sports

In the SEC it just means more… teams.

Reports of realignment shook the college football world on day three of SEC Media Days when a Houston Chronicle report shared Oklahoma and Texas’ interest in joining the SEC. There have been plenty of non-denial denials since then. In this humble unsourced sportswriter’s opinion, it’s going to happen. Don’t worry, BBN. The sky is not falling for the Kentucky football program.

The first fear for Kentucky fans went to conference play. “If Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC West, Alabama and Auburn will move to the SEC East.” That is a logical line of thinking, but it will never happen. Two eight-team divisions in the SEC are the equivalent of two conferences playing under the same name, a la the Big 8 and Southwest Conference merging to make a Big 16.

Once the SEC grows to 16 teams, the league will eliminate the East and West divisions, add a ninth conference game and (finally) go to a pod scheduling format where the two teams with the best winning percentages advance to the SEC Championship Game. If you’ve never heard of pod scheduling before, Bill Connelly has detailed it extensively, but there’s a shorter version to that story.

— The league will be broken down into four pods (or four-team divisions). Those teams will play one another every single year, accounting for three SEC games.

— Each division will be paired with another for two years, essentially a cross-divisional home-and-home with four opponents, getting a team up to seven SEC games.

— For the final two SEC games, each school will play one team from the remaining divisions. This will get four-year players to every SEC stadium during their career and ensure that traditional rivalry games remain alive.

Based on geography, here’s one potential layout for the new scheduling format.

North
Kentucky
Tennessee
Missouri
Vanderbilt

East
Florida
South Carolina
Georgia
Auburn

South
Alabama
Mississippi State
Ole Miss
LSU

West
Texas A&M
Arkansas
Texas
Oklahoma

The most likely scheduling scenario, Kentucky will be sitting comfortably in undoubtedly the easiest of the four divisions. The other divisions may look different than the proposal above, but most in the profession believe Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt will join UK in a scheduling pod. Sometimes the annual pairings will be more difficult than others, but the way college football works, at the absolute worst UK will have three top five-ish teams on the schedule (and that already happened, LAST YEAR).

Kentucky is in position to sit pretty once the realignment shuffles slows to a crawl. Even so, it never has been and it never will be easy for the Wildcats. That’s because one thing remains true. In the SEC, it just means more.

P.S. More Potential Wrinkles

Once this scribe finished writing, Bill Connelly created an alternative schedule that adjusts the annual rivals and still ensures that each four-year students visits all 16 campuses in the SEC during their career.

@ESPN_BillC

Elsewhere, the SEC Network had its own ideas.

@RossDellenger

There are seemingly limitless potential pairings. That’s what makes conference realignment talk so riveting. It will not be slowing down anytime soon.

UPDATE

Here’s another proposal, because why not?

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2022-12-01