The SEC Roommate Switch

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.  Many great matchups are benched 5 of 6 years.  You visit half the conference only once every 12 years (that’s barely a conference!).  Some schools have frequent exposure in recruit-rich areas and major media markets, while others only once per dozen years.  The 6-2 format is no better since it would squash some of the SEC’s bedrock annual rivalries.  And most Pod formats fail to keep round-robin Divisions as required by the NCAA for a championship game.

There’s got to be a better way – an alternative that addresses the main concerns of both the 6-1-1 and 6-2 camps.  Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said:

“…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 !!! “

There is a better way! 

A format is available that achieves ALL the following criteria:

    • Preserves the major rivalry games ANNUALLY.
    • Play all schools at least once every TWO years.
    • HOST & VISIT the whole conference every FOUR years.
    • Maintains 2 round-robin DIVISIONS for the SEC Championship Game under existing NCAA rules.
    • Accomplishes all this is EITHER an 8 or 9 game schedule.
    • Maximizes the quantity of marquee match-ups for fans and TV.
    • 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:

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Banner-Switch14

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Let’s start with the end RESULTS: 

Here is an example football schedule 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 divisions, how the scheduling goals are all met at once, and why it’s called the Roommate Switch.

As you can see below:  the rivalries are played every year and you play the whole conference every two years, while keeping Division play intact.  It maximizes the SEC’s “attractive game” potential in a balanced way, and makes for a tight-knit conference of rivals.  Fans, TV, recruits, and history books would eat this up year after year.   This format 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 version everyone has 3 permanent opponents and rotates the other 10 teams at five per season.  There are 2 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 via the 9th game, rotating the remaining 8 teams at four per year.  

    • Game 9 assignments shown below are just for example purposes, to show some possibilities.  Actual Game 9 assignments would be made by the conference.
    • Other options for Game 9 are discussed in Step 4 further down, such as “Nearly-Permanents” that play 3 of 4 years, or NFL-style schedule-equalizer games).

Schedules by Team:

 Under this format 14 isn’t “unruly”, it’s ideal.

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.Schedules By Division:

Here are the same 8-game schedules, this time from the Division perspective.  You can see  that round-robin play is maintained in both divisions each year, satisfying the the NCAA by-law for conference championship games.  (The Divisions are explained in greater detail in Step 2 further down the page).  Division games are in gray (click to enlarge):

Divisions

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You might prefer to group the teams/pods differently, producing a slightly different schedule for your team.  That’s fine, these groupings are just one example of what is possible.  (You might also assign the 9th game differently, that’s fine too). 

The important thing here is to demonstrate that the concept works!  We have all of the following:

    • Major rivalries are played annually,
    • Rotate through the whole conference every two years,
    • Two Divisions with full round-robin play every year,
    • In an 8 or 9 game schedule.
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(NOTE:  I updated the graphic above as readers pointed out some of the Game 9 match-ups were doubled-up.  ALSO remember the Game 9 match-ups shown are just one example.  Game 9 is independent of the original 8-game rotation through the conference, and can be hand picked.  And as you’ll see in the formulas below, even moving teams to different slots within their pod can change who is available as their 9th Game match-up, so nothing about Game 9 is set in stone).

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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, and those results are simple (see above).  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.

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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) and help determine permanent opponents (step 3).  Balance-of-power between each pod is not critical (it balances out in the divisions).  For an 8-game format I think these groupings work best overall, but that’s up for debate (and for a 9-game format there are many more pod grouping possibilities):

Pods-9game

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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.   The winners of the two divisions meet in the SEC Championship Game, same as always.

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). 

(FYI there is further discussion of the divisions in the Q&A at the bottom).

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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)
  • 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)
  • 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).

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 these options keep the original 8-game, 2-year rotation through all schools intact, with 2 round-robin divisions each year.

Also, if you went to 9 games there are many additional possible pod groupings (since you would be able to also use Game 9 to keep rivalries intact, and not just rely on the base pod rotation).

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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.

Spreadsheet, AC
Spreadsheet, BD
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Schedules by Division:

And finally, here again are the same complete 8-game schedules from the Division perspective.  You can see  that round-robin play is maintained each year in the two divisions. (division games are bold/gray).

Divisions

The concept works!  Each year we have two divisions with full round-robin play, major rivalries played annually, and rotating through the entire conference in 2 years on on 8 game schedule (or 9).

Remember, if you would prefer to group the teams differently to arrive at a slightly different schedule for your team, that’s fine (the conference would make actual assignments anyway).  And fwiw the pod-groupings used here are really ideal in an 8-game format… but if you add a 9th game it opens up many other interesting pod grouping possibilities (without sacrificing rivalries).

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Let’s Review:

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  • 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.

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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.

Is the schedule balanced?  

It’s already better in the 8-game Roommate Switch format than in the current 6-1-1 format.  And if a 9th game is added there is even more parity.  Adding a 9th game also opens up many more possible pod groupings (without sacrificing rivalry games).

Also keep in mind “balance” is sometimes as much perception as reality, since teams go up/down over time.  Arkansas, Mizzou, Auburn and Tennessee have all been Top 5 in the 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, and 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.

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.

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Contact me with comments or suggestions at:

theRoommateSwitch@gmail.com

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UPDATE:  I guess ESPN really meant business after the Katherine Webb broadcast.  Looks like Musburger was reassigned to another post with less eye candy:

Brent Cardinal Musburger ?
(not photoshopped, though I did add the blue arrow)

 

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