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May 29, 2012

HURT: Miles, Saban may butt heads

Les Miles and Nick Saban may be about to butt heads for the third time in eight months.

This time, the issue isn't on the field. That was settled in New Orleans, a fact that Miles, the LSU coach, graciously acknowledged in his relaxed session at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., on Tuesday.

"The two best teams were there," Miles said of the BCS championship game in January. "We finished second."

Where Miles doesn't want to finish second is in the SEC West Division race. Of course, Saban doesn't want to finish second, either, but the two have different ideas about just how that should be determined.

The backstory of the discussion on whether interdivision games (East vs. West) should count in determining a division champion really began in the East. Last season, South Carolina went 5-0 in the East, beat Georgia head-to-head - and sat at home while the Bulldogs played LSU for the league title. The reason was that South Carolina went 1-2 vs. the West while Georgia went 3-0. The two teams didn't have radically different schedules. Both played Auburn and Mississippi State. Neither played Alabama or LSU. But in its other cross-divisional game, South Carolina drew Arkansas, which was a top-10 team in the nation at the time. Georgia, meanwhile, played Ole Miss, which may not have been a top-10 team in Mississippi at the time. That (plus the fact that South Carolina managed to lose to Auburn) decided the East. The fact that Georgia took a dreadful beating in Atlanta is beside the point. What matters is it had a shot.

There is a little more to it, though. LSU is also trying to maneuver itself out of playing Florida on an annual basis as a "traditional" opponent, which Miles doesn't feel is a "tradition" at all.

"The two states don't even touch each other," Miles said.

He went on to insist that with the league expanding for a second time, the old traditions - in essence, that means Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia - don't really mean that much. Privately, LSU officials think adding Texas A&M gives them another rivalry already.

So on one side you have Miles. On the other, you have Saban.

"Competition is not the issue," Miles said. "We welcome competition. But let's build a structure that is equitable for defining our conference champion."

"Traditional games are important to our fans," Saban said. "All the games we play against conference opponents are important. And they should all count. If they don't count, why play them? If you do that, we aren't really a conference, just a couple of divisions."

For the moment, the status quo is likely to count. But that won't stop Miles and Steve Spurrier from making the proposal for change.

"We have some coaches who vote for good old-fashioned self-interest, strictly, 'What's best for my school?' and that's it," Miles said. "I might not be able to change that, but I am going to give it a shot."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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