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May 30, 2012

HURT: Who plays who still the question

The Southeastern Conference's annual meetings are usually dominated by football, understandably enough. Football drives the SEC. But somehow, the league's coaches and athletic directors can't agree on what should be the simplest football question of all: who plays who.

The basketball coaches seemed to do a little better at the annual meetings in Destin, although that hasn't all been entirely sorted out either. The SEC basketball tournament, according to several coaches, will now be a five-day, 14-team marathon. The top four teams will get a double-bye until Friday, which suggests that the bottom four teams will play on Wednesday and have to win five games in five days to get an automatic NCAA bid. Don't expect that to happen. Ever.

The regular-season basketball format will include one permanent opponent - Alabama's, naturally, will be Auburn - and a rotating smorgasbord of other opponents, still with some of the old divisional flavor.

"We were presented with options involving one, two or three permanent opponents," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "But we were comfortable with one, and with all getting along."

That isn't perfect, but it isn't bad and the basketball coaches seem to get the fact that there is not a perfect format out there. It would be great if the same thing could be said on the football side, but it apparently can't.

The 6-1-1 model - with one permanent cross-divisional game like Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia - still seems to have the most support, but it is far from unanimous. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva even suggested that if Alabama and Tennessee want to play every year, they could play in a nonconference game. So much for people understanding how this wildly successful conference, the one that generates more money than any other conference, was built.

The 6-2 format, in which there are no permanent opponents but two rotating cross-divisional opponents, does have one thing to recommend it. Instead of having to wait every 12 years for Alabama-Florida or Alabama-Georgia, those series would come around every four or five years. But Alabama-Tennessee would also stop being an annual event and instead happen about as often as the Olympics. And for a lot of fans of those two teams, looking at Texas A&M and Missouri raises a natural question: Was it worth it?

Somehow, there will end up being a football schedule for 2013, although it might not please most people. And despite Mike Slive's assurances that the SEC isn't looking to get any bigger, the feeling will still continue to be that having 16 teams wouldn't really be any worse than having 14.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0235.




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