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May 30, 2012

Spurrier again proposing changes

SANDESTIN, Fla. | In what's becoming almost an annual tradition at the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings, Steve Spurrier is proposing change.

The league's elder statesman and South Carolina coach intends to discuss and debate the merits of the SEC determining its divisional champions based solely on divisional record. The conference currently determines its East/West champions by total conference record.

Spurrier, the league's most loquacious and thought-provoking head football coach, is still smarting from a scheduling quirk that he feels cost his South Carolina squad a second consecutive trip to Atlanta as the Eastern division champion.

Despite beating eventual SEC East champ Georgia head-to-head in a back-and-forth 45-42 thriller in Athens, Ga., South Carolina ultimately fell victim to the league's rotating schedule, which gave Georgia an SEC regular-season schedule that didn't include Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, three of the top teams in the country. At one point during last season the three ranked 1-2-3 in the BCS poll.

South Carolina played and lost to Arkansas, the difference in not winning the East.

"I'm personally in favor of just the division games counting," Spurrier said Tuesday on the opening day of spring meetings. "I know some people are, several aren't. I was thinking about the most fair conference I was ever in was the ACC 1987-89. I think we only had eight teams and everybody played each other. It was very simple. Whoever had the best record was the league champion. Now with the megaconferences everybody can't play everybody.

"Sometimes scheduling might be the reason you win a division or could even win a conference championship. I think it would be a way to continue some of the truly great rivalries in college football. The biggest one I think about is Tennessee and Alabama. They're in different divisions, and for Derek Dooley to play them every year that sort of hurts his chance to win the Eastern division because Alabama's been one of the best in the country year-in and year-out. The best thing for Tennessee to win their division is ... they'd probably like to play a lesser team than Alabama. "

Alabama coach Nick Saban prefers to keep the way the SEC determines its divisional winners the same.

"I just think it's important for the integrity of the games for the fans, who look forward to all these rivalry games that we have in the SEC," Saban said. "I mean, it's big when we play Georgia, it's big when we play Florida. So you're going to minimize the importance of those games by saying, 'They don't count'?

"You know, there's no perfect way to schedule. You can look in the NFL and say, 'This team got in the playoffs because they didn't play all of these good teams.' I know there were teams last year in the East that didn't play Arkansas, LSU or us and we were 1-2-3 at one time, but how many times does that happen? It might happen every now and then. I just think that there's no perfect way to do it. But I do think that you're going to minimize the importance of cross-divisional games if you say they don't count toward the championship. Then we're really not an SEC, we're just an East and a West. So why would we even play the games?"

Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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