ENGSTER: Trimming the fat from the SEC

The time has arrived for the SEC to streamline its membership. It's unworkable to have a dozen teams competing for conference honors.

So, the league should become a compact, sportier model by reducing its members from 12 to nine.


This past football season, nine SEC teams traveled to bowls. Thus, it is easy to determine which nine members stay in the conference. We also can discern that Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt should start shopping for new conference destinations.


The Rebels, Bulldogs and Commodores drain the league of valuable dollars and prevent the SEC from crowning a true champion. If Ole Miss, MSU and Vandy were not siphoning funds from the strongest members of the SEC, LSU would not be forced to burden the nation's most loyal fans with escalating ticket prices.


The lucrative television and bowl revenues delivered to the least of the SEC brethren should be split among the nine strongest programs. This is a case of Darwinian survival of the fittest. Goodbye, Johnny Rebs; So long, State; See you, Vandy.


Some Ole Miss fans might question why Kentucky stays and the Rebs go in the new and improved SEC. The reason is simple. It's called basketball. Kentucky is still king of the college hoop scene and helps the league immensely in this department.


Here's how the new SEC will work: There will be one division for football and basketball with all nine members. Each league representative plays eight football games against conference foes, four at home and four away. At the end of the regular season, the top two teams meet in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game. If necessary, tie-breakers will be employed as they are in the current divisional structure.


In LSU's case, the Tigers will play four additional non-conference games at home.


Likely, Ole Miss should appear on the schedule in Baton Rouge every year as a non-conference opponent. This is the way it was when Johnny Vaught was coaching Mississippi and chose to bring his team to Tiger Stadium almost every Halloween weekend.


Ole Miss followers may be ecstatic about trekking to Death Valley each year. From 1947-1966, this great rivalry was played 17 of 21 times in Louisiana. During that span, the Rebels owned a 13-6-2 advantage over LSU.


John Kennedy was president, the conference featured all-white teams and Sen. Trent Lott was a cheerleader when Ole Miss last dominated the league. The Rebels haven't reached the SEC pinnacle since 1963; Mississippi State hasn't captured league honors since 1941, and Vanderbilt has never reigned as the SEC's gridiron champ. By contrast, Tulane won the conference three times in football before defecting in 1966.


In basketball, the new format allows each SEC team to play every other team home and away in a 16-game league slate. Once again, a true regular season champion is recognized, and SEC post-season competition is unaffected. LSU fans will have the pleasure of booing Kentucky every year at the PMAC under this configuration.


This proposal was first recommended in this space in 1985. At that time, the now late, great former Ole Miss broadcaster Stan Torgerson was ticked off at this column and reacted with a vengeance. Torgerson was a worthy adversary, and I wouldn't be suggesting this if he were still alive.


Twenty-two years have gone since Stan the Man questioned the sanity of anyone recommending an SEC exit strategy for his beloved Ole Miss. Now, Mississippi fans should be enthused about competing in Conference USA where the Rebels will thrive.


Since 2000, LSU's footballers are 6-1 vs. Ole Miss; 7-0 vs. Mississippi State and 2-0 vs. Vanderbilt. Even though the Tigers salivate at the prospect of feasting on the league cupcakes, divorce is required in Oxford, Starkville and Nashville, so the SEC breadwinners will receive full access to community property. 


Under the realigned SEC, LSU will never again fail to compete against the best the league has to offer. The plethora of schools in the conference deprived the Tigers of the right to face Bo Jackson at Auburn, Herschel Walker at Georgia and Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Two Heisman Trophy winners and a runner-up were never contested by LSU defenders.


College sports are big businesses, not charities. LSU fans are contributing to the coffers of three programs that receive more than they produce. Vanderbilt may raise the overall grade point average of the league, but fans want their teams to play in BCS bowls, not quiz bowls.


This idea has so much merit that Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier get the message to start collecting SEC hardware for trophy rooms at Arkansas and South Carolina. Otherwise, we may be looking at a seven team conference sometime soon.  But that's a column for another day.




Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.

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