The SEC recently adopted a 6-1-1 schedule format for football. Let’s hope it’s temporary, because it’s not a good long-term solution for the nation’s best conference. Under the 6-1-1 format many of the best match-ups are benched for 5 out of 6 years. You visit half the conference only once every 12 years (that’s barely a conference!). Some schools get frequent exposure in recruit-rich major media markets, while others only once every dozen years. And a 6-2 format is no better, since it would squash some of the SEC’s bedrock annual rivalries.
“…the #1 priority should be that every player at every school have the opportunity to play every SEC school in his career… rather than be so ‘divisional’ oriented… it doesn’t have to be nine games, but what scheduling format gives us an opportunity to do that?”
” I’ve got it !!! “
A format is available that achieves ALL the following criteria:
- Preserves the major rivalry games EVERY YEAR.
- Play all SEC schools at least once every TWO years (instead of 6).
- HOST & VISIT all SEC schools every FOUR years (instead of 12).
- Maintains 2 round-robin divisions for the SEC championship Game under existing NCAA rules.
- Accomplishes all this in EITHER an 8 or 9 game schedule.
- More frequent marquee match-ups for fans and TV.
- Balanced strength-of-schedule.
- Fosters greater rivalry, competition, history & cohesion between all SEC schools over the long run.
That would be a far superior format vs. 6-1-1… or 6-2, or 6-1-2. And HERE IT IS:
Let’s start with the end RESULTS:
Here are the football schedules for all SEC teams for a complete 2-year cycle, both 8 and 9 game versions. You could put it on your fridge now for the next 20 years. Further down you’ll find the step-by-step explanation of the formula to generate them, the round-robin Divisions, how all the goals are met, and why it’s called the Roommate Switch.
As you can see below, the big rivalries are played every year, and you play the whole conference every two years. It maximizes the SEC’s potential match-ups in an equitable way, and makes for a tight-knit conference of rivals. Fans, TV, recruits, and history books would eat this up year after year. It would be another quantum leap ahead of other conferences, similar to the SEC’s trailblazing move to divisions 20 years ago.
The Bottom Line (8-Games): In the 8-Game format everyone has 3 permanent opponents and rotates the other 10 teams at five per season. There are two round-robin Divisions each year, on a simple 2-year cycle (even/odd years).
The Bottom Line (9-Games): If a 9th Game is added everyone picks up a 4th and 5th permanent opponent, rotating the remaining 8 teams at four per year. (NOTE: the Game 9 assignments shown below are just for example purposes, not mandated by the format. Actual Game 9 assignments would be made by the conference, and there are many options. OR game 9 can give everyone up to four “Nearly-permanents” (played 3 out of every 4 years), in addition to their three permanents. Explained more below).
Under this format 14 isn’t “unruly”, it’s awesome:
So how are these schedules made?
It’s not really necessary for fans to follow along with the process listed below… most will just want to know their school’s schedule each year. But for those of us who are interested in what’s under the hood, here’s how it works:
- 1. The Pods.
- 2. The Divisions.
- 3. The Formula (for permanent & rotating opponents).
- 4. The Football Schedules.
Step 1. The Pods
The conference is grouped into four pods. The pods are just bricks that build the two Divisions each year (step 2). Balance-of-power between each pod is not critical (it balances out in the divisions). I think these groupings work best overall (but that’s up for debate):
Step 2. Divisions… and The Switch.
The Divisions are what ultimately matter (not the pods), and this is the critical step that allows all the goals listed at the top to be met. The pods are paired into two round-robin divisions of 7 teams for the SEC Championship Game, on a 2-year cycle:
In EVEN years the divisions are pods [A+C] and [B+D].
In ODD years the small pods swap places. (ergo “The Roommate Switch!”)
When you compare these divisions to the team schedules, you’ll see there is full round-robin division play each year. (Team and Division schedules are shown in Step 4 below).
I like calling the divisions the X’s & O’s (even years) and the Y’s & Z’s (odd years). It’s simple, football related, and has no overlap. (Others have suggested just combining the pod names: NorthSouth and EastWest in even years; NorthEast and SouthWest in odd years).
Step 3. The Formula.
This formula provides the 8-game schedule, with a two-year cycle through the whole conference. Everyone has 3 permanent opponents and rotates through the other 10 teams at 5 per year:
- SMALL POD TEAMS
- Permanent opponents:
- Both of your podmates. (2 games)
- One permanent from the other small pod. (1 game)
- Rotating opponents:
- Non-permanents from the other small pod. (1 game)
- All the teams from one large pod. (4 games)
- Permanent opponents:
- LARGE POD TEAMS
- Permanent opponents:
- All three of your podmates. (3 games)
- Rotating opponents:
- All the teams from one small pod. (3 games)
- Half the teams from the other large pod. (2 games)
- Permanent opponents:
- NINTH GAME
- If/when a 9th Game is added:
- The formula above still determines the first 8 opponents.
- Then the 9th game assignments can be selected by the conference (not dependent on the formula).
- If/when a 9th Game is added:
Game Nine simply adds 4th and 5th permanent opponents for each school while keeping the original 8-game, 2-year rotation through all schools intact.
OR, there are other flex options available with Game 9 as well. For instance, instead of additional permanent opponents, Game 9 can be structured to create up to four Nearly-permanents that you play 3 out of every 4 years. Possible scenarios include:
- Option A: 5 Permanents, 8 Rotating even/odd.
- Option B: 4 Permanents, 2 Near-permanents, 7 Rotating even/odd.
- Option C: 3 Permanents, 4 Near-permanents, 6 Rotating even/odd.
- Option D: another option is to make the 9th game an NFL-style strength-of-schedule equalizing game based on prior year standings. But personally I much prefer having additional permanents &/or near-permanents).
.All of these options keep the original 8-game, 2-year rotation through all schools intact, with 2 round-robin divisions each year.
(FYI, the 9th game also opens up more pod grouping possibilities while still keeping the major annual rivalries intact via game 9, though I like the groupings shown above).
Step 4. The Football Schedules!
The pods, divisions, and rotation formula all boil down to one simple football schedule for a complete 2-year cycle. The team-by-team schedule shown below is identical to the one at the top of the page, but presented in spreadsheet form (instead of helmets), with labels for further clarity. You can see each team plays its permanents annually and rotates the whole conference every two years.
- Permanent opponents are in plain text. Rotating are in italics.
- Note – the 9th game is not listed here, since those pairings can be hand-picked and are not dependent on the rotation formula.
Schedules by Division:
And finally, here are the same complete 8-game schedules, this time from the Division perspective. You can see that round-robin play is maintained each year in the two divisions. (division games are bold/gray).
In the 8-game format, strength-of-schedule between teams is as good or better than the current 6-1-1.
If a 9th game is added that brings even more schedule parity. Furthermore, a 9th game opens up other pod grouping possibilities that provide additional balance without sacrificing major rivalry games.
But remember so-called “balance” can be very subjective and based on perception as much as reality, especially since teams go up/down over time. Arkansas, Mizzou, Auburn and Tennessee have all been Top 5 teams in the very recent past, but right now they’re a little down. Carolina, A&M and Vandy were down, but now those are tough games on the schedule. Don’t sleep on Ole Miss or Miss St this year either. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say. Over the long-term, the important thing is that the rotation be consistent and equitable. That will allow the conference to stay in fierce, fair competition.
- Bedrock Rivalries maintained ANNUALLY.
- Alabama-Tennessee. Iron Bowl. Egg Bowl. Auburn-Georgia. Georgia-Florida. Florida-Tennessee. Etc.
- And new annual games like LSU-A&M. Arkansas-Mizzou, etc.
- Play every SEC school at least once every TWO years.
- Instead of every six years under 6-1-1.
- Home & Home with ALL schools every FOUR years.
- Gives everyone a chance to host and visit the whole conference during their SEC athletic career or student enrollment.
- That’s important for players, recruits, students and fans (Nick Saban’s #1 priority).
- Much better than every twelve years under 6-1-1!
- Works in either an 8 or 9 game schedule.
- Continue at 8 games as long as you want.
- If/when the time comes for 9 games the transition is seamless, built-in.
- No rule changes or waivers needed.
- Two round-robin divisions are maintained for the SEC Championship Game.
- More frequent big games for TV and fans.
- With games involving two marquee brands more often, continuing the SEC’s leadership in top notch competition and excitement.
- Why put so many of the best potential matchups on the bench for years at a time as in 6-1-1 or 6-2?
- The Roommate Switch’s consistent rotation formula could facilitate the SEC a greater ability to plan and stagger non-conference slots across the season consistently, to help ensure strong television line-ups each week.
- Balances strength-of-schedule.
- Steve Spurrier’s priority #1!
- Fosters greater conference cohesion, familiarity, history and rivalry between all SEC schools and fans across time.
- All schools are either on your schedule or on-deck all the time.
- A cure for those “digestion issues” Bernie Machen talked about.
Responses to Questions
The response has been very positive, I appreciate everyone’s comments and suggestions. The feedback and discussion on TigerDroppings, TexAgs, Georgia and Mizzou Rivals boards, Brother Ben has been great and helped me tweak the presentation. Here are my thoughts to a few questions that have come up:
Are the alternating divisions confusing?
I don’t think so. It’s actually pretty simple and predictable. The SEC would have an Even Year schedule and an Odd Year schedule. Not hard to grasp, and you can put it on your fridge now for the next 20 years. It’s surely not more confusing than trying to track teams around the twelve-year cycle of the 6-1-1 to figure out when & where you will play someone (and whether your grade-school son will go to the game with you; or will already be in college by then and go on a student ticket, or will be an alumni by then and have his own tickets).
There are tradeoffs in every format. If you want to preserve the traditional rivalry games annually, AND play everyone else frequently, AND have a championship game under the round-robin requirements, something else has to give. For me that something is the Divisions. Easy choice – as long as a suitable alternative exists that achieves the goals.
What about the lessons from other conferences that have tried new division formats with mixed results?
There are reasons why experiences of other conferences don’t necessarily extrapolate to the SEC. They have been trying to address different problems the SEC doesn’t have, such as:
- Trying to gin up competitive friction where it is lukewarm at best;
- Manufacturing conference cohesion among distant schools in different geographical regions;
- Attempting to gerrymander competitive balance or championship game matchups.
These were all attempts to force an unnatural fit or result. But those aren’t the issues for the SEC – which has passionate fan bases, plenty of competitive friction, does not span multiple geographic regions, and understands that teams go up/down in cycles that you can’t rig or try to freeze in time.
The SEC has a good problem on its hands: we all want a piece of each other and there just aren’t enough rounds to take a swing at everybody. The Roommate Switch format solves that problem and throws fuel on the fire. It keeps historic rivalries and sub-regional groups intact, while at the same time giving you a regular crack at everyone else.
I think this format would intensify rivalry and history across the SEC since each school would have division battles with 10 or 11 schools per cycle (instead of just 6) – but does so in a repeating, predictable way that will develop another layer of SEC history over time, while maintaining plenty of stability and familiarity due to the permanents you always play. Another good by-product is the reduced likelihood of championship game rematches in consecutive years (without putting a thumb on the scale). And championship game opponents one year could be division opponents the next, creating a new dynamic in the competition. This format would be another quantum leap ahead of other conferences, similar to the SEC’s trailblazing move to divisions 20 years ago.
On the other hand, under the current 6-1-1 format (or even 6-1-2) I think the SEC risks letting an unnatural separation and distance creep in between its two halves. So many rarely play each other that the SEC might be unintentionally nudging fans in the opposite direction – toward the mentality of other conferences where those on the other half of it are mostly out-of-sight out-of-mind-whatever.
How bout the 6-1-2 format, if the SEC went to 9 games?
The Roommate Switch is still the superior format in a 9-game schedule. The 6-1-2 format would not give everyone the chance to host and visit every SEC school during their 4-year career… or even in a redshirt 5-year career! And for TV purposes 6-1-2 leaves many of the best match-ups on the sideline 2/3 of the time.
What about other formats, or eliminating divisions?
I’ve seen a few proposals that do a good job of protecting rivalries while playing the whole conference frequently. But they all share one major flaw… they would require the NCAA to waive the round-robin division requirement for hosting the SEC Championship Game. If a waiver can be obtained, great. But my hunch is that’s easier said than done. Much of the expansion and realignment upheaval of the last 20 years has been driven around that rule, and I don’t see the NCAA or the presidents of non-SEC schools wanting to do the SEC a huge favor, or make it any easier for power conferences to go past 12. The Roommate Switch is the only format that can accomplish all the stated goals within existing NCAA rules.
Won’t the SEC expand to 16 soon, making all this moot?
Maybe, maybe not. Those are huge decisions involving many different entities, dollars, and interests, and no one person controls all the levers or timetables. Sure it could happen if the right combination of dominoes were tipped at the right time… but it’s just as possible, even likely, that the SEC will stay at 14 for quite a while.
At either 8 or 9 games,the Roommate Switch is a better format for players, fans, TV and conference competition.
Contact me with comments or suggestions at:
UPDATE: I guess ESPN really meant business after the Katherine Webb broadcast. Looks like Musburger was reassigned to another post with less eye candy: