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May 30, 2012

Alabama-Tennessee series in peril

SANDESTIN, Fla. | The Third Saturday in October and the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry are more than just the names of two of the Southeastern Conference's most decorated series. To the people in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee they're tradition, memories and, quite frankly, a way of life.

But annual clashes between Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia find themselves in peril this week as SEC coaches, athletic directors and presidents argue, debate and ultimately decide the future scheduling model of the expanded SEC, which now is comprised of 14 teams with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.

Coming into the SEC Spring Meetings, the 6-1-1 model was generally considered a foregone conclusion, with each team playing its six divisional opponents, rotating one game against a team from the other division and a fixed, traditional game against a team from the other division. In the cases of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia that meant their respective rivalries remained intact.

However, after two days of healthy debate, the 6-1-1 model is no longer considered a slam dunk. Other options being discussed include a 6-2 option, a nine-game schedule and allowing the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia series to continue while the other 10 teams would rotate cross-divisional opponents.

For instance, LSU is not in love with having to play Florida every year as its permanent cross-division rival while other SEC teams get a less consistent opponent.

"We said the format, period, needs work," LSU coach Les Miles said. "If you look at it, Mississippi State is going to play Kentucky every year. I think that's disproportionate. I'm not for that. I'm not for Auburn playing Georgia every year. Again, I think that's disproportionate. I think there should be an opportunity to see a greater segment of the conference. I think the opportunity to rotate two games instead of one game and therefore not annually picking an arbitrary criteria to determine a champion.

"We look at the permanent crossover rival and, for the most part, the rough interpretation I think most of the coaches would be in favor of eliminating an arbitrary permanent rival," Miles said. "I think there would be some discussions for the Tennessee-Alabama game and the Auburn-Georgia game."

Alabama and Tennessee have played since 1901, a total of 93 games. UA holds a 48-38-7 series advantage, including a five-game win streak.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said the conference has looked at every feasible option and will at some point have to make a decision.

"I don't know what will happen (with Alabama-Tennessee)," Hart said. "That decision has yet to be made. I know what I'd like to happen, but I don't know what will."

Auburn and Georgia have played a total of 115 times, with Auburn leading the series 54-53-8.

Despite Miles' pleas of inequality, Georgia coach Mark Richt is not in favor of ending the annual Tigers-Bulldogs clash.

"I'm not going to be the one to say we shouldn't play Auburn," Richt said. "That's a great traditional rivalry. We should play Auburn every year. So my vote would be for 6-1-1."

Alabama athletic director Mal Moore declined to offer an opinion on the subject.

"That's ongoing," Moore said. "We're going to revisit it and look at it Friday. I'd rather comment later."

SEC athletic directors will make a recommendation to their respective presidents with a final proposal expected to be put to a vote Friday.

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



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