Stuart McNair

Alabama’s most important historical SEC football rivalry should be preserved

Alabama vs. Tennessee has decided many SEC football titles

First of all, forget the nonsense about Auburn wanting to move to the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference so the Tigers can play Florida and Tennessee in football every year. Auburn wants out of the West, a little bit out of the shadow of Alabama. The Tigers are looking for an easier road to success.

They would be particularly happy if they get the move of Auburn to the East and Missouri to the West. As Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn so eloquently put it, "If you look at the way the map is set up, I mean, it's kind of like common sense."

If Auburn will concede that it wants to move in order to have an easier path to success, others can also concede that the Tigers do have an historical connection with Florida and Tennessee, moreso than with several teams in the SEC West.

Interestingly, though, we have not been able to find any clamor from the camps in Gainesville and Knoxville to have Auburn moved to the East. In fact, based on the latest SEC Spring Meeting it appears there is no traction for this change. But one can expect Auburn to keep pushing for it.

In any event, why should Alabama care?

It is all about protecting what is historically the most important rivalry in SEC football. When the league expanded in 1992 with the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina, the league wanted to make sure that certain rivalries of teams in the West and East were protected. The two most important were Alabama (which is No. 1 in every aspect of winning percentage, championships, bowl games, bowl victories, etc.) and Tennessee (which is No. 2). Of slightly less importance, but worth protecting, was the Auburn-Georgia rivalry. Not as successful, not as meaning to SEC championships, etc., but the oldest rivalry in Southern football.

Thus, Alabama has its top two rivals – Tennessee and Auburn – and Auburn has its top two rivals – Alabama and Georgia – on the schedule each year.

SEC football coaches, at least, have been reluctant to make the schedule more difficult by adding a ninth league game. The last time the vote was made public it was Alabama’s Nick Saban voting for a ninth game, the other 13 all voting No. That tells you a lot.

So, suppose Auburn moved to the East and Missouri to the West. (That would actually please a number of teams in the West who would see a more likely win against Missouri than against Auburn in most seasons.)

With the current setup in the SEC, and no seeming interest in changing, every team plays its six division opponents, one traditional (sort of) opponent from the other division, and one rotating team from the oppositve division.

Alabama’s traditional opponent from the East is, of course, Tennessee. Auburn’s traditional opponent from the East has been Georgia.

Should Auburn move East, it would, of course, continue to play Georgia every year. The problem would come with Auburn’s new traditional opponent from the West, which almost everyone would agree would have to be Alabama.

To be sure, there are those in both camps who would just as soon the Alabama-Auburn rivalry be diluted. It has become a hate-filled rivalry, fueled by the ignorant on both sides who are pitted against one another on the Internet and, particularly, on sports talk, including on the SEC Network.

Alabama vs. Auburn is not likely to go away. It has become one of the most talked about rivalries in the nation and important final game of regular season play.

Somehow we suspect that Tennessee would much rather keep its every-year game against Alabama than lose it because Auburn moves into the East.

Everyone is looking out for its own interests, and Auburn’s interests are transparent (and, as conceded, to some extent legitimate). As things stand, Auburn has its primary rivals. If the Tigers move to the East, both Alabama and Tennessee would lose the most important rivalry in the conference. Until the league is willing to add another conference game to the schedule to facilitate the historic Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, the move of Auburn to the East should not be considered.

Otherwise, who cares?

 


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